4th and a mile with Paul Muth

Here's what to expect at a socially distanced Texans game

Things look just a bit different from a typical Texans game. Photo by Paul Muth

The Houston Texans play host to the New England Patriots this Sunday in a battle to decide...nothing.

The Patriots are bad. The Texans are bad. The only thing this game offers in utility is something to nap through while nursing a Saturday night hangover.

If ever there was a season to avoid watching or going to a Texans game, this would be it.

Also 2013.

Also 2005.

The only reason this season could be worse is that it is being played in the middle of a pandemic. To be fair though, their on field performance warrants even less fan attendance than the current 13,000 allowed.

In spite of their current Masterclass season of ineptitude, curiosity got the better of me a few weeks back. I had to see what a socially distanced NFL game felt like. So I grabbed a ticket to the Jacksonville game and did just that.

It already felt weird before my buddy and I had even made it to the stadium. We knew something was off when we were able to pull up and park without wading through the infamous soul-crushing Texans traffic. Be it known that my super secret off property parking spot was utilized in conjunction with a quick METRORail ride up to NRG Park. There was absolutely no justification to spend money on gameday parking passes considering that tailgating was forbidden.

With tailgating out the window and stadium beer prices still ridiculous we were forced to watch an 0-4 Texans team face the Jaguars sober. Coincidentally this was also the first in-person Texans game ever that I had actually watched sober. I didn't know that was allowed.

Security checkpoint? Walk right through. Ticket scan? Breeze on by, buddy. Food and beer? Come and get it. It had shades of 2007-2016 Astros-level entrance efficiency, mainly because no one was going to those games either. You can skip and twirl with your arms outstretched throughout the concourse all the way to your seat with nary a chance to bump into other fans.

Once we were inside, though, the mask went on and stayed on. They're serious about it, too. So much so that they've deployed roving bands of mask police in red polos to patrol the concourse. Armed with a sign that says "Please wear your face mask. Thank you!" These sentinels have been deployed to root out problem makers and ruthlessly point at their sign until compliance is achieved.

We reached our section and headed down to our own personal row behind the goal post. That's right. When we purchased the seats, they were being sold in groups of four. Since we were the only two that purchased any, the other two were discarded. When we arrived I had expected to have at least two empty seats near us to stretch out as a result. Wrong.

Every seat not sold is strapped shut with steel strapping typically reserved for bailing machines. They were definitely not playing around with enforcing the distancing.

At the bottom of each row you'll find another mask monitor, back turned to the field. They will harass your section the entire game to make sure everyone complies by passive-aggressively pointing at the person and then pointing at their "Please wear a face mask. Thank you!" sign. It's merciless.

Once we settled in, I had the pleasure of listening to the man with the toughest job of all: the PA announcer trying to hype up an empty stadium.

It's "Texans tradition" during the player entrances that the PA announcer says the player's first name, and the normally packed crowd yells out the player's last name. This crowd certainly did not pull their weight.

PA: "DESHAUN"

Crowd: [incoherent mumbling]

I'm not going to bother talking about the game because it was terrible. But the game experience itself? It was weird. The timeout productions were all on the video board, the cheerleaders were sequestered into different corners of the stands on makeshift stages. Toro the mascot donned a mask. Even with the manufactured crowd noise on loop, it was uncomfortably quiet.

Then came the bombshell.

"ALL RIGHT TEXANS, IT'S TIME TO GET LOUD FOR YOUR HOUSTON TEXANS!"

"This should be great," I thought to myself.

The video board then switched to a graphic of a decibel meter, while the cameraman struggled to find a rowdy crowd big enough to zoom in on. The decibel meter read 105 dB.

I pulled up the decibel meter app on my phone to compare (don't ask why I have a decibel meter on my phone), and my heart sank.

70 dB. We were being deceived. The app equates the decibel level to similar noise levels, with 70 dB equating to "busy traffic." In lieu of "Go Texans!" or "Let's go!" during key situations, we resorted to just yelling "BUSY TRAFFIC" for the remainder of the contest. Our trust had been broken.

Final verdict?

Watching sports in person truly lacks a critical dimension without a crowd. It was uncomfortable and eerie, and the Texans just aren't good enough to merit a trip to Kirby Drive, even if you don't have to worry about lines or crowds. I did the work so you don't have to. If you simply must watch the Texans, stay home, and stay comfy.

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