January 9th, 2012

Sports fan

Mob Rules

A couple of days ago, I encountered this youtube video in a Houston Press blog post:

It was taken in 1979, right after the Houston Oilers lost the AFC Championship title to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 1978 season. 80,000 people went to the Astrodome to welcome the team home. I was really, really moved by the video, and it seemed to me that I must have seen it before.

Lord knows I spent some time in my childhood watching the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome. I saw the scoreboard go off many times, and it was always a thrill. My mom would always grab a few extra giveaway pom poms for me and my sisters when she went to the games, so I was always prepared to cheer when I went to the games. Those pompoms were everywhere, and I remembered being in the stands and singing the song and being part of something bigger than my very little self.

The highlight of my youth was when *sigh* John Schneider aka Bo Duke came to the Astrodome to sing the National Anthem before an Oilers game. My parents, understanding my true and pure love, made sure I was at that particular game. They brought him out on the back of a pickup truck, and afterwards, they drove him around so he could wave at the crowd. During the song, my heart was aflutter that I was in the same (albiet very, very, very large) room with him, and afterwards, I nearly passed out when he waved at me (and 15,000 other people in my general direction)!

At any rate, yesterday, Graham and I were debriefing my parents on the sheer amazingness of being in Reliant Stadium when the Texans won their first ever playoff game. The crowd was insane, and for the entire first half, there was a tension in the air that was palatable. We yelled louder than we'd ever yelled before. I read later that it got as loud as 110 decibels in there, about the same as a buzz saw from 3 feet away.

And when J.J. Watt made that interception for a touchdown, lumbering straight towards us and the North end zone, we could literally feel the shift in momentum that would take the Texans through the rest of the game. The place went absolutely ape shit. Graham and I started hysterically laughing and hopping up and down (more me than Graham on the hopping). The guys in front of us accidentally doused the poor lady in front of them in beer because their arms flew up involuntarily. The replay went on the jumbotron and everyone went insane again. And they panned on J.J. Watt, who was breathing oxygen on the bench, and he smiled at the camera and yelled "Let's go!" and the crowd went crazy again. In the next play, he sacked the poor Bengals quarterback, and everyone went into halftime with a sense that we had this.

The next two touchdowns were pretty insane too. Both were long. Both were highlights of the individuals who made them. But not quite like that interception. And by the time the fourth quarter started, there was this sense that, "Holy crap! We've got this." That Arian Foster got two, that Andre Johnson got one. That the Defense got one. This was all fitting. And even though the game was clearly over halfway through the fourth quarter, not a single soul had left their seat to beat the rush or head home. 73,000 of us were there at the very end, happy and dancing and overjoyed that our team had won and we were there to experience it with them.

Our seats are right above the tunnel that the Texans run in and out of. And we watched and cheered every single player as they left the field. Andre and Arian both went to the 50 yard line and interacted with the fans along the edge of the field all the way to the tunnel. Most players got to the tunnel, looked up and cheered at the fans, who cheered right back at them. It was amazing.

In the parking lot, people were dancing. We would have joined them--we had an invitation to tailgate from the people who have been sitting behind us for ten years--but Graham had to work in two hours, and we needed to get home.

We told my parents all about this. And we told them about how, at the very beginning of the game, we watched Bum Phillips, the most beloved coach of Houston Football, lead the team out of the tunnel. He is 88 years old now, and he walked out of the tunnel by himself, big trademark cowboy hat on his head. And when he was out of the tunnel, he paused, took off his hat, and looked around at this amazing crowd. And the crowd went wild for him. 30 years after he'd been fired from the Oilers, he was still beloved. We were close enough that we could see the look of humble bewilderment on his face that he generated such a reaction. And he put his hat back on, stepped into line next to the cheerleaders, and the team ran out on the field.

My mother said, "I remember going to the Astrodome to welcome them home."

"I just saw a youtube video of that! You were there? It must have been insane."

"You were there too. We woke you up to take you."

"Oh my god! I thought it was just that I'd seen too many youtube videos. I remember!"*

My mom turned to Graham to explain that I'd been a huge Oilers fan when I was a kid. I had a nylon jacket which served as my winter coat**, in Columbia blue, that I'd accidentally burned because I'd leaned too close to a fire when I was trying to warm up.*** She sewed the Oilers logo from a tee shirt on to the back of it to cover the burn, and it became my favorite article of clothing. We had a 45 with the Houston Oilers song on it. Graham said that they used to make fun of both the song and the color up in Cleveland.

My dad had right of first refusal to the second ticket on Saturday, but he wanted to go to the ranch. So Graham went in his stead. I think he may have been a little sad that he didn't get to see what we saw, and he was pretty quick to accept when we said that he HAD to go to the AFC Championship, if it happens here. I've been going to NFL games with him since before I can distinguish clear memories between what I saw and what I heard about. I'd love to go to one more with him this season so he can once again experience what Graham and I experienced on Saturday. It was amazing

*I was 5 1/2 years old in January of 1979. I can be forgiven for lapses in memory.
**Back then, winters were more reliably cold. The ice storm of '83 was one to be reckoned with. And the house ranch had no central heat. Warm coats were essential.
***Ah, the 70s and early 80s, that thing would be banned as flammable now. They'd never let small kids wear something that melts when too close to heat these days.