Hous­ton’s ‘fate worse than death’

Cow­boys here for Su­per Bowl would irk many

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Col­lette

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.

Dis­man­tling stereo­types

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.

Long-sim­mer­ing ri­valry

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.

Michael Cia­glo / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

“Cow­boy” Bill Lamza has had years of ex­pe­ri­ence an­tag­o­niz­ing Hous­ton foot­ball fans.

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