GREAT EXPECTATIONS

How hype around Houston Texans already raising some intriguing questions

Houston Texans Nico Collins, CJ Stroud
Will the Texans catch the Astros in popularity? Composite Getty Image.

Every pro sports city has one team that “owns it.” By “owns it,” we mean the team that dominates the conversation on sports talk radio, has the highest local TV ratings and grab the top headline in the newspaper sports section.

In Los Angeles, for example, that team is the Lakers. The LeBrons’ TV and radio ratings dwarf even the superstar-loaded Dodgers. The Rams and Chargers are comparative after thoughts.

In New York, the keys belong to the legendary Yankees with 27 World Series titles and the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig still holding season tickets.

Around the country, usually (I said usually) it’s the NFL team that owns the town. The NFL is bigger than MLB, the NBA and NHL combined. The NFL team has to be really sucky to let the baseball, basketball, or hockey team claim the fans’ NFL passion.

It does happen. In Miami, the NBA Heat are tops with fans. Maybe it’s because the Dolphins haven’t won a playoff game since Dan Marino was slinging touchdown passes to the Marks Brothers. In Las Vegas, the hockey Golden Knights are more popular than the Raiders.

Which leads us to …

Who “owns” Houston? Is it the Astros in midstream of seven consecutive ALCS appearances and two World Series victory parades? Or is it, whoa this is sudden, the Texans coming off a winning season, an NFL playoff appearance and a wild card victory, a new respected head coach and maybe the most exciting rookie quarterback to come along in NFL history?

We’re going to put the Rockets aside for the moment, or the past 30 years.

Sure the Astros have “winners” plastered all over the franchise. But winning doesn’t guarantee fan enthusiasm. It’s weird, but winning can become boring. Take the dynasty Atlanta Braves from 1991 to 2005. They won 14 consecutive division titles and still couldn’t sellout some home playoff games. In 2005, riding that incredible streak of division titles, the Braves finished 15th in home attendance.

Here come the Texans. With the arrival of head coach DeMeco Ryans and sensational rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, the Texans are considered favorites to win the AFC South again in 2024 and some dare to whisper Super Bowl. At least they’re in the conversation of who might challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for NFL supremacy.

Remember, the NFL dominates the American sports landscape, and Texas has the reputation for being a football state. But really? The last time a Texas team won the Super Bowl was the 1995 Dallas Cowboys. The Texans have never even played for the AFC championship.

The last two World Series champions have come from Texas: the Astros in 2022 and the Rangers last year. Vegas oddsmakers say the Rangers win was a fluke, but the Astros are the favorites to be American League champion and return to their rightful spot in the World Series.

Who is the brightest sports star in Houston? Is it Jose Altuve on his way to the baseball Hall of Fame? Or is it C.J. Stroud who just won the NFL Rookie of the Year award?

The Astros have more recognizable star players: Altuve is a Houston folk hero, plus Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander. The Astros are cuddly. We hear every time they get engaged or have a baby. They’re the good guys in Houston.

Except for Stroud, how many Texans would you recognize if they were sitting in Chick-fil-A?

So the answer to “who owns Houston?”

It’s the Astros. But the Texans are roaring down the backstretch and could catch the Astros at the wire in 2024.

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