A Celebration of the 2011 Houston Texans

When the Houston Texans arrived at Reliant Stadium Saturday night after being eliminated from the 2011 NFL Playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens, the disheartened team expected to just get in their cars and drive home. What they got instead was a celebration.

The Texans were greeted by hundreds of fans that wanted to show their appreciation for an historic season. Not only did they reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, they accomplished the feat by overcoming an overwhelming amount of adversity. Any other team without their defensive star, Mario Williams, first and second string quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, and Hall of Fame wide receiver Andre Johnson for more than half the season, would be discussing who they should use their top-5 pick on in the upcoming draft.

This is a testament to GM Rick Smith’s excellent work by assembling an excellent coaching staff, specifically the hiring of Wade Phillips, along with building exceptional depth via the 2011 draft and free agency.

What makes the loss sting even worse is that for the first time since the team’s inception, the Texans are a complete team. Each player on the team stepped up and contributed to the season’s success in some way, i.e. two dynamic running backs that could have run for 1,000 yards each, a bottom tier defense vaulting to the top within one year. If health were kinder to the players this season, we could very well be talking about a different matchup in Indianapolis. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at some key players this season.

TJ Yates

Yates showed nothing but resilience and courage after being thrust into the starting role as a 5th round rookie. The fact that he was invited to the Combine not as a participant but as a thrower to receivers, makes his perseverance this season a story of “Rudy”-like proportions. Yates surely could not have imagined the unfortunate string of luck the quarterbacks experienced. Even so, he rose to the occasion and performed admirably.

In the Texans’ system, quarterbacks are essentially game managers, and aside from expected growing pains, Yates managed games efficiently and confidently. The rookie mistakes eventually caught up with him against the Ravens, as he threw three interceptions, but fans can be assured that the experience he gained this season has helped him mature beyond other rookie quarterbacks not named Cam Newton. Yates has all but sealed his place as the backup to Matt Schaub with the invaluable experience he gained this season.

Andre Johnson

Although AJ had an injury-plagued season, his time on the field clearly made a difference. Without the deep threat, opposing team defenses stacked eight to nine players in the box to minimize the Texans’ stout running attack. When healthy, Johnson can stretch the defense by expanding the field and exploiting any defense; his presence alone demands attention from defensive backs, requiring frequent double teams.

He is the heart of the Texans and the most beloved athlete in Houston. Seeing him get his first chance to play in games in January should bring tears to any fan. Since his time at Miami, he has been with the Texans for 9 of their 10 seasons. He has endured years of heartrending, disappointing seasons and had not complained once. He even signed an extension that makes him likely to retire a Texan. The man is loyal, humble, philanthropic, and clearly a Hall of Famer when he hangs up the pads for good. He deserves it.

Now that his season is over, Johnson has time to expand the initiatives of The Andre Johnson Foundation, set up during his rookie season that assists children and teens growing up in single parent homes.  In addition, Johnson hosts an annual community day after each season in his home-neighborhood of Miami Gardens, Florida. Here, the community gets the opportunity for rides, games, barbeque, and the chance to participate in a bone marrow donor matching drive.

Arian Foster

Despite being hampered by hamstring issues during the first three games of the season, Houston’s Pro Bowl running back had a tremendous year. Foster, who the Texans signed as an undrafted free agent, is not your typical NFL player. He was a philosophy major at The University of Tennessee, studied Buddhism, and reads and writes poetry. His ideas are often expressed with resounding thought, best portrayed by a respectful bow to the game of football, or “Namaste.”

He follows the Andre Johnson mold: humble, loyal, and active in the community. He refused to hold out during training camp, playing for the minimum contract of $525,000. During the offseason, he frequently speaks to students and has partnered with Subway to raise money for charity.

He has been doubted his whole life and will continue to play with a swagger to prove his critics wrong.  In fact, while speaking to students at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, California, he casually stated, “There’s always going to be somebody that says you can’t do something. Usually that somebody didn’t do what they wanted to do with their life.” That chip on his shoulder will be there until his already great NFL career ends.

Foster truly is a gifted running back both physically and mentally. His running style conjures images of a young Barry Sanders’ elusiveness combined with Terrell Davis’ power. If a cheetah and a rhino mated, Arian Foster would be the result. His ability to change cut in any directions, and at any time, is like listening to an Al Pacino monologue. Undoubtedly, Foster is the first on a long list of players (Chris Myers, Mario Williams, etc.) that the Texans need to re-sign during the off-season.

With their high character roster remaining predominantly intact, and with the addition of free agents and drafted players, the Texans are expected to be Super Bowl contenders in 2012. Look out Cowboys; it looks like there’s an even brighter star in Texas.


Gary Wang is a first year MBA student at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. He helps manage their student run blog, The Warsaw Sports Review at http://warsawsportsreview.com/.

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