The Texans will now be the sentimental favorites to win Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
They may be practicing at the $ 1.5 billion training facility of America’s Team just outside Dallas this week, but as one of the most high-profile representatives of the city of Houston, which has been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, the Texans are the real “America’s Team.”
“It’s very, very tough, very difficult to watch your family, your friends, your city, go through a time like this and not be there to help and not being there to go through it with them, not being there to experience it,” J.J. Watt said. “We obviously want to get home as quickly as possible.”
Dallas is just 250 miles north and a little bit west of Houston, but there is often no correlation between the weather of the two largest cities in Texas. As a result, the Cowboys have opened The Star, their training facility, for the Texans to practice. Their Thursday night preseason game against each other, originally scheduled for NRG Stadium in Houston, where Tom Brady put on the incredible Super Bowl comeback just seven months ago, has been moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The Texans, who have spent most of the summer training at a resort in West Virginia in order to beat the Texas heat, played in New Orleans on Saturday night. Hurricane Harvey made it impossible for them to return home, so they traveled straight to Dallas. There is no indication yet when they will be able to get back home to Houston. The flooding in Houston has been historic.
The Texans are scheduled to open the season Sept. 10 at home against the Jaguars. Since they play in the same division and each play in football-only stadiums, they can flip the home games if Houston is not ready to host a game in less than two weeks. They play again Dec. 17 in Jacksonville.
If the game is moved to Florida, it would mean the Texans would begin the season with three straight road games because they play a Thursday night game on Sept. 14 at Cincinnati and then at New England on Sept. 24. That is followed by three straight Sunday home games against the Titans, Chiefs and Browns. Really, any disparity on the schedule is the least of anybody’s concerns.
This is not the first time an NFL team has been displaced by a natural disaster. But just as it was with the Saints after Hurricane Katrina forced them to play the entire 2005 season on the road, including one “home” game against the Giants at Giants Stadium, football is a secondary concern to the safety of all of the people in Houston and the condition of the city.
So much of New Orleans basically had to be rebuilt after the levees gave way in the Big Easy. The infrastructure in Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, is much better. Even so, people have died, houses have been destroyed and the water has reached unimaginable heights.
Texans owner Bob McNair and the NFL Foundation donated $ 1 million each to the United Way Relief Fund. Robert Kraft and the Patriots pledged to match up to $ 1 million in donations to the American Red Cross Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
Watt, who donated $ 100,000, began an online fundraiser Monday with an initial goal to reach $ 200,000. That was eclipsed within two hours. He increased the goal to $ 500,000. When Chris Paul, a recent addition to the Houston Rockets, pledged $ 50,000, Watt wrote on his Twitter, “The generosity of @CP3’s $ 50k donation is actually what put us over the $ 500k mark. Phenomenal stuff from donations both large and small.”
He raised the goal to $ 1 million. Within the first 26 hours, $ 800,000 was raised. After it hit $ 1 million, Watt increased the goal to $ 1.5 million. The goal is now $ 2 million. As of midday Tuesday, the total was up to $ 1.847 million.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien has given his players plenty of time to remain in close contact with family members in Houston. Tom Savage, who will be the Texans’ starting quarterback, at least until rookie Deshaun Watson is ready, is constantly checking on his wife and 7-month-old daughter.
“As a father, you want to be there, and you want to be there to protect and support her,” Savage said. “That’s the hardest thing for all the guys. I can speak for them. We’re the fathers. We want to be out there.”
That is the most frustrating part for the players and coaches. During Hurricane Katrina, many of the families of the Saints evacuated New Orleans. Many of the families of the Texans remained in Houston. They can’t get out of their houses and the players can’t get into the city to see them. Hopefully, that will happen soon.
O’Brien, according to those at his news conference this week, became choked up about what was happening in Houston. “Hey, it’s tough,” he said. “That’s why I’m so emotional about it. It’s a helpless feeling having to watch it on the news and knowing that people are back there suffering. The toll of this storm is unprecedented and it’s been hard to watch.”
He has to continue to get his team ready for the start of the season, which is quickly approaching, while being aware this is about more than football. His players have praised him for finding the right balance.
“Football is obviously important, but I think the most important thing right now is doing everything we can for our city,” O’Brien said. “I’ll tell you right now, we’re going to dedicate this season to the city of Houston, the people of Houston.”
It may not pay off in a Super Bowl, but with the Texans representing the city that has been so devastated, a lot of people will be rooting for them.