Memo to Astros, Rockets, Texans and Houston fans in general: Sports in this city can be fun again. Here's how we make it happen
Being a Houston sports fan is not much fun these days. Astros fan is under siege for something they had nothing to do with.
Rockets fan? The world hates James Harden and who knows if this team is good enough to get over the hump?
The Dynamo? When was the last time they were actually competitive?
The Texans? Bill O'Brien makes it hard to love the team.
Sometimes, we need to be reminded that sports is supposed to be entertaining and fun. Enter the Roughnecks.
Having attended my first XFL game on Sunday, I was struck by two things: 1) Where did all these fans come from? 2) It was more of a party atmosphere than a sporting event atmosphere. And oh man, it was fun.
I don't know if the league will last. I delved into that last week. But they have captured something that is missing from most sporting events, especially in Houston.
It's supposed to be fun. And like it or not, most of the teams in this city are not as fun to watch as they should be.
More on that in a moment. The first question is something I have wrestled with. Are these Roughnecks fans people who just have O'Brien fatigue? Or don't want to pay NFL prices? WWE fans?
I think the answer is all that and more. Many of my friends who attended the game are not from Houston, and thus not Texans fans, but they can get behind the Roughnecks because they aren't fans of another XFL team from another city. It gives them a connection to Houston, the city they adopted, without sacrificing their NFL fandom.
As for the rest of Houston...
And let's be honest; it's hard to be a fan of the Big Three sports right now. The Rockets seem stuck in almost-contender status, and the Harden dribble, dribble, dribble, shoot a 3 offense is a turn off. Even if that is not entirely accurate, that's the narrative. Plus the game atmosphere can be staid, no matter how hard the marketing team tries. Many of the people aren't there to watch basketball, but to be seen. They leave their seats and walk in front of people in the middle of a play.
The Texans have some of the most fun players in the league in Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt. They are easy guys to root for. But O'Brien's stranglehold on the franchise makes for a hard sell. He was even caught yelling at a fan on video. His dictatorial rule and inflexible approach are complete turn offs. That, and NRG has always been a place where a lot of fans from other teams show up. That is to be expected in a city that is as transient as this one. For whatever reason, Texans games just don't feel fun very often. Certainly it is for the hardcore fans - any sport is - but the atmosphere often comes off as stagnant, especially when the team is not playing well. It's strange, because NRG also has some of the best tailgating in the league. But the fun part seems to stay in the parking lot far too often.
As for the Astros...the cheating scandal is certainly going to hang over the team and the fanbase. Houston's most fun team is now a giant question mark. Plus, with all the pending free agents, this year might be the last as legitimate World Series contenders.
There are others...
When the Dynamo were contenders, the atmosphere was electric, but that was a long time ago. UH football is a fun experience when they are winning big, which they have not done for three years. The basketball team has made Fertitta Center the place to be, but if you are not a UH fan...
The Sabercats and Skeeters have found niche audiences and are nice family experiences, but that is really on a different level.
What does it all mean?
Sports matches are supposed to be fun, win or lose. An experience for yourself or your children. Maybe the Astros should embrace their villainy with trash can giveaways or Darth Vader helmet giveaways. Have fun with it. The team and its fans are in the cross hairs right now, and none of it is the fans' fault. All they can do is embrace it and hope for the best.
To the Rockets credit, they do try, with a lot of packages that are fan friendly. But unless they somehow win a championship, it's hard to see them capturing the city. The Rockets do a lot of fun stuff, but the main product seems to turn people off. Harden fatigue, perhaps? Like any relationship, after a while, things can turn sour when you appear to be stuck in a rut. So liven it up with a drinking game: Take a shot every time Harden shoots a step back three. You will be drunk in a quarter, but it will be fun getting there.
Which brings us to the Texans. O'Brien has made them unlikeable, which is a shame. When a coach loses a fan base, the experience is not a fun one for anyone. A Texans Super Bowl would dwarf the Rockets titles and even the Astros, but it's hard to see it happening under O'Brien. Maybe he will prove us all wrong. Again, drinking game. A shot every time O'Brien calls a draw on third and 10-plus? Or every time he says "we have to coach better, we have to play better" in a press conference?
The point is the fans at the Roughnecks game were having fun. The party lasted three hours. It was just sheer joy of sports. Will they still be into it when the team loses a couple games? That remains to be seen. This is Houston, after all, home of the front-running fan. But it should remind us what we are supposed to take from sports. Entertainment. Fun. Win or lose.
And no, this is not about the hardcore fan, but the casual fan, who is not won over or who is frustrated. And that's OK, but irritation with a player or coach aside, you can still enjoy the experience. Many of you have become jaded - I hear from you all the time on the radio or see it on Twitter. But maybe take in a Roughnecks game and remember why you fell in love with sports in the first place. Then take that back to your Big Three fandom.
Sports is supposed to be the best reality TV. Sometimes it is a comedy. Sometimes a tragedy. Sometimes a feel-good story. That does not mean you can't bash O'Brien or get frustrated with Harden's playoff performances, or go nuts over the way the national media is pounding the Astros. But shouldn't we enjoy each experience and see how it plays out?
Maybe it's not a bad thing to be reminded that sports is supposed to be fun, especially now, when things seem so bleak and stagnant.
For a time, however brief, the Roughnecks have reminded us of that. What we do with it is up to us.