Houston’s ‘fate worse than death’
Cowboys here for Super Bowl would irk many
Robert Coward can feel the flood coming, a deluge so cataclysmic that Houston may never be the same.
A flood of Cowboys fans.
The Dallas team is hotter than it’s been since the Troy Aikman-Emmitt Smith-Michael Irvin years. If it wins the divisional playoff Sunday against Green Bay, it will be one game away from heading down Interstate 45 for the Super Bowl.
“It’s a fate worse than death,” said Coward, a construction project manager for the offshore industry who began his largely painful devotion to Houston’s professional football teams 55 years ago, when his dad took him to Jeppesen Stadium to see the Oilers.
Hyperbole aside, there are real logistical considerations if Dallas makes it. Crowds downtown for events during Super Bowl week could balloon well beyond the 100,000-per-
“It would be absolutely worse than the zombie apocalypse.” Texans fan Robert Coward, on the prospect of the Cowboys winning a Super Bowl in Houston
day estimates, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, noting traffic could be “exponentially higher” with a Dallas visit.
No one knows exactly how many extra visitors that might be. The scenario wasn’t taken into account by any of the economic reports published so far. But Ric Campo, chairman of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, said he believes it will amount to little more than “a rounding error.”
He and Emmett say the city is well-prepared. The transportation plan calls for extended Metro service, prepaid downtown parking, advance light rail passes, bike valets and shuttles. The Houston market has about 20,000 more hotel rooms than when it last hosted the Super Bowl in 2004, owing partly to an oil market that isn’t filling as many rooms now.
The prospect of a Dallas visit means a chance to dismantle Houston stereotypes held by North Texans and to showcase what the fourth-largest, most diverse U.S. city has to offer, Campo said. There’s an intense business rivalry, too, each city competing for conventions and tourism, he said. Plus, the pressure will be on to top the icy mess that clouded Super Bowl XLV when Dallas hosted in 2011.
But emotionally, football cuts deepest.
Rabid Texans fan Tony Sherrill, retired from the state’s transportation permitting department, traces his allegiance to the early days, too, when the Oilers won the first two American Football League championships before settling in for their legacy of mediocrity.
He’s already hatching plans to find a hotel room in some neutral place — probably not in Texas or any adjoining state — should the Cowboys be here Feb. 5.
It is enough that Dallas is “America’s Team.” That the rest of Texas bleeds blue and silver. That droves of Cowboys fans turn up at every away game. That they have won five Super Bowls and are a combined 8-4 against the Oilers and Texans in the regular season.
Then they have to be so arrogant and condescending, Sherrill said.
“If you like any other team than the Cowboys, it’s like you’re subhuman,” Coward said.
No one epitomizes this view of Dallas fans so much as “Cowboy” Bill Lamza, a lifelong Houston resident and one of many who, early on, took to the well-established NFL and its flashiest team and never understood the appeal of the hometown underdogs from the upstart AFL.
Lamza’s obnoxiousness got him banned from radio stations and, in some cases, secretly welcomed by Houston sports radio hosts like Dan Patrick, who would have Lamza on to hurl insults and then watch switchboards light up.
Patrick, now lieutenant governor, broadcast from his sports bar in Rice Village. He fed quarters to Lamza so he could call in to the show from the pay phone in the men’s room. From that lavatory perch, he’d lob taunts about the Oilers, and Houston in general.
“Dallas is the sophisticated banking capital of the state, and Houston is the flesh-eating-disease capital,” he quipped in a recent interview. Dallas counts Super Bowl rings, he said, while Houston counts potholes.
It is this kind of Dallas fan that still makes Carl Mauck’s blood boil. He’s been seething since 1977, the middle of the “Love Ya Blue” era, that short-lived heyday when the Oilers came tantalizingly close to the Super Bowl.
In Mauck’s first game against the Cowboys in Houston, the Astrodome brimmed with Dallas fans — plenty from there, but many from Houston — and they booed the Oilers loudly.
After the game, Mauck told the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain that Dallas fans should get the hell out of Houston, and he’d help them pack. It created a firestorm that raged for years.
In 1979, the Cowboys lost to the Oilers on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas. With time running out — and on fourth down — Roger Staubach threw a pass that sailed into the stands. In the locker room, a reporter shoved a microphone in Mauck’s face: “What’s wrong with the Cowboys?” “It’s easy,” he said. “They can’t count.”
Mauck, a 6-4, 240-pound center from Southern Illinois, exemplified the lovable, blue-collar cast of Oilers with his blunt, gruff outbursts. He claimed to urinate in a cup during visits to Texas Stadium, then pour it out on the star at midfield.
He refuses to acknowledge that the Cowboys are really good this year.
“I’m not giving in to them,” he said.
Of course, the Texans are still in the hunt. Las Vegas oddsmakers put the chances of a Houston AFC championship at 50-1.
Even Lamza isn’t counting them out, figuring the Cubs won the World Series and Donald Trump will be president next week.
“That’ll be the trifecta,” he said.
The intrastate feud precedes pro football, of course.
It’s rooted in rival railroads in the 1800s, said Joe Nick Patoski, a contributing author to “Bragging Rights: The DallasHouston Rivalry.” They’ve tussled like siblings ever since, never quite admitting they’re born of the same cotton cloth and fueled by the same oil. It enriched the men who started their respective pro football franchises.
Clint Murchison Jr. turned his over to the expert hands of general manager Tex Schramm and coach Tom Landry, while Bud Adams micromanaged his Oilers all the way out of town.
That’s the way Houston sees it, anyway. Coward concedes that it comes down to jealousy. Here’s Houston, an enormous, multicultural metropolis, Space City — “Yet you get on the NFL channel, and the Texans are just barely mentioned.”
That’s the emotional baggage that would descend with the Cowboys.
Houston won the first matchup between the franchises in 2002, but that salve is wearing thin. The Texans gave a $72 million contract this year to a quarterback who got benched, while Dallas sailed to the postseason with a rookie passer and rookie running back. And if they win here?
“It would be absolutely worse than the zombie apocalypse,” Coward said.
“Cowboy” Bill Lamza has had years of experience antagonizing Houston football fans.