Commentary

Texans overtake big brother Cowboys

Updated: September 23, 2010, 3:21 PM ET
By Roy S. Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

Cowboys-Texans cartoonDrew Litton/ESPN.comThe Texans can settle, for now, who's the better team in the state.

He's still got the best stadium in sports.

And his team's unis are pretty cool, too.

He's still got the Ring of Honor and the history made by the iconic figures who've coached and played there.

He's still got the star. And he's still got the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

But Jerry Jones, for the first time ever, no longer has the baddest NFL team in the state of Texas.

That would be the Houston Texans.

That's right, the eyes of Texas are not upon the Boys. The team named for the state now owns the state. Or at least bragging rights.

And those rights will be stamped, validated and deep-fried when the 2-0 Texans put a whuppin' on the 0-2 Cowboys in Sunday's shootout at Reliant Stadium.

That sound you hear? It would be Jerry Jones' head exploding.

Early-season NFL encounters don't usually mean much more than a W or an L. Even at 0-3, a team can recover and reach the playoffs, though it's only happened five times in league history ('81 Jets, '82 Buccaneers, '92 Chargers '95 Lions and '98 Bills).

By contrast, 3-0 teams are almost shoo-ins. Since the league expanded to 12 playoff teams in 1990, more than 75 percent of the 3-0s qualified for the after-party.

But enough of sterile data. Neither of these teams is thinking about the playoffs right now. Nor are their fans. Especially Cowboys fans, who are pretty much shell-shocked after going into the season thinking not only that the playoffs were a given (Dallas has qualified three of the past four years, though they've won only two of their past nine playoff games) but also that these Boys might become the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in their own home stadium.

Now, even though (disclaimer alert!) I grew up a Cowboys fan myself, I'm quietly chuckling at the prospect that the Texas team in the Super Bowl just might be the baby-brother-upstart Texans.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireMario Williams and the Texans beat the Redskins. The Cowboys did not.

Cue another Jerry Jones explosion.

The Texans faithful have been waiting for this since 1995 when Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams said he was taking his team to Nashville in three years. But fans were so disgusted they stopped showing up. Because so few did, they disturbed the players on the field, who could often hear them chatting (not cheering) in the stands.

It was so bad that Adams was allowed out of his lease a year early and the Oilers were gone.

In 2002, the Texans were born without expectations. That gradually changed as the pieces that now anchor this team where cobbled together. Houston native Gary Kubiak, then the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, was hired as head coach after the 2005 season. A few months later, the Texans made jaws drop when, armed with the top pick in the draft, they passed on then-Heisman winner Reggie Bush and Texas quarterback Vince Young (the Heisman runner-up and national champion) for Mario Williams, a defensive end from North Carolina State, who played outside college football's spotlight (in the ACC) for a team that finished an abysmal 3-9.

That move (even more so than the acquisition of quarterback Matt Schaub in a trade with Atlanta a year later) was the Texans' do-or-die moment.

Now baby brother is doin' it.

And it's no fluke. The Texans have stunned Indianapolis and staged a dramatic comeback on the road against Washington. Though Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin gets more ink (and better celebrity dates), the Texans have the state's best wide receiver in Andre Johnson.

And while the Boys have a trio of serviceable running backs (Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice), Jerry Jones would trade them all for Arian Foster, the best back you've never heard of. Undrafted (yes, undrafted), the second-year runner from Tennessee burst out of the gate with 231 yards against the Colts and now leads the league in rushing at this nascent stage with 300 yards.

Meanwhile, the Boys are all but shooting blanks on both sides of the ball. In losses to Washington and Chicago. Dallas has scored only one offensive touchdown per game and failed to cause a turnover. To paraphrase a former coach: "Congratulations, Cowboys, you've scored one more touchdown than a bunch of dead men!"

Head coach Wade Phillips is sitting on the hottest seat in all of sports. But fingers are also pointing toward Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, once deemed the head-coach-in-waiting. Now, not so much. Quarterback Tony Romo has thrown an arm-straining 98 passes and handed the ball off to one of the main backs only 40 times. And those three backs have rushed for only 132 yards combined, less than half Foster's total.

Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Willie Nelson didn't originally mean Cowboys, but these days...

One Texan by birth finds it all very amusing. Dan Jenkins, the legendary golf writer and observer of all things Texas, is more of a college football fan, but one can't live in Texas and not have an opinion on the Cowboys and this apparent changing of the guard.

DeMeco Ryans
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesDeMeco Ryans and the Texans have produced excitement this season. The Cowboys have not.

"Most people in Texas are college football fans. There are more UT fans by far than Dallas Cowboy fans," he told me from his home in Fort Worth. "More [Texas A&M] Aggies and now more [TCU] Frogs. College football will always be king down here. But I'm kinda tickled by what happened the first two games. What makes you hate the Dallas Cowboys is the media. I don't need to read 12 stories a day on them, and we get stories on them every day of the year.

"Plus, every year they're gonna win the Super Bowl. Every year! They lose couple of games and now everyone wants 'em dead."

Though he's no Cowboys fan, Jenkins credits Jones for the Boys' success, and particularly for building the team's state-of-the-art $1.3 billion stadium. "It's incredible," he said.

But now Jenkins says Jones has to reconstruct his team. "He's gonna have to make some changes," Jenkins said. "Throw out all the coaches, or whatever. And face up to the fact that Romo's not the guy. He's not [Don] Meredith. He's not [Roger] Staubach. And he's sure as hell not [Troy] Aikman.

"And hell, they don't have a running back. They don't have a stud."

If Jones can survive this weekend in Houston, Jenkins thinks the owner will do what's necessary to at least attempt to regain supremacy in his own state: "He's certainly not stupid. He's certainly stubborn, but they all are."

Roy S. Johnson, a veteran sports journalist and media consultant, is the editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.

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Roy S. Johnson

Contributing writer, ESPN.com

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