Woj on NBA free agency:

Battle of Texas actually matters this time

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Eight years ago, after conducting some interviews on a warm August afternoon at Raiders training camp in Napa, Calif., I got a call from my new boss at Sports Illustrated.

''I'm thinking about putting the Houston Texans on the cover this week,'' managing editor Terry McDonell said excitedly. ''Everyone's talking about their opening game against the Cowboys.''

A look of semi-disgust flashed across my face. I tried to make sure it didn't show up in my voice, but I proceeded to tell McDonell I thought he should reconsider, that an expansion team hosting its first game against a struggling in-state rival wasn't all that big a deal in NFL circles. Though McDonell, who still runs the magazine and its website, would enjoy a highly successful tenure, at the time I was worried that he had set himself up for ridicule only months after coming aboard.

''Don't do this,'' I pleaded.

He did it, fashioning a cover that screamed ''War For Texas'' and featured a somewhat sensationalized quote from Cowboys safety Darren Woodson: ''We've got to win that game.'' Grant Wahl's well-written story talked up a rivalry that seemed a bit contrived, and included a quote from a Texans fan: ''You know, we could lose every other game this season. But if we just beat Dallas, I'll be the happiest man on the face of the earth.''

Sure enough, the Texans came away with a 19-10 victory, creating a sense of excitement that lasted all the way until the following Sunday, when they began a five-game losing streak en route to a 4-12 season. And really, if you think about it, that ostentatious but ultimately hollow opening-day triumph was so Texans. No NFL franchise has gotten its fans so hyped up for alleged landmark moments yet failed to provide a satisfying follow-through.

In short, the Texans are pro football's biggest tease. Still without a postseason appearance in eight seasons, Houston didn't win more than two consecutive games until 2008. Though the Texans managed their first winning season (9-7) in '09, they rallied only after a stretch of four consecutive defeats in November and early December had essentially killed their postseason hopes.

The reason I bring this up (besides wanting to give my ex-boss a laugh on an early autumn Friday) is that on Sunday, for the first time since quarterback David Carr(notes) led the home team to victory in the War For You Know What, the Texans will host the Cowboys in a regular season game.

And this time, it really is meaningful, or at least it has the potential to be.

You know the setup: Houston (2-0), riding a breakout performance from halfback Arian Foster(notes), opened the season by beating the defending AFC champion Colts for the second time in 17 tries. Last Sunday the Texans clawed back from a 17-point second-half road deficit to the Redskins and pulled out a 30-27 overtime victory, with quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) throwing for 497 yards.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys (0-2), last year's NFC East champions and this year's Super Bowl hosts, lost to the Redskins and Bears and seem dangerously close to an Ari Gold-style meltdown.

But don't take it from me; heed the words of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who told reporters Monday, ''We look like a circus, like a bunch of clowns out there.''

Something tells me that, given the obvious stakes, the Cowboys will come out more like evil clowns on Sunday and do everything they can to disturb the mood at Reliant Stadium. I believe this because, with apologies to Woodson, they've got to win this game.

For the previous eight seasons, that opponent's desperation would have been enough – the Texans, with a chance to step up to the big top, would have folded like a … wait for it … circus tent.

I'm not convinced the Texans will do that now. I think they'll bring their "A" game, too, and treat their fans to an entertaining showdown between in-state rivals rife with significance.

It'll be, you know, a War For Texas – and perhaps for something greater.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Falcons will announce themselves as title contenders – NFC South and NFL, period – by upsetting the Saints at the Superdome on Sunday. … After all that mess I talked about the Texans, they'll still go out and beat the Cowboys – because, you know, this is the year (or not). … Jason Taylor(notes) will make a game-clinching play, then do a little dance for ex-boss Bill Parcells as the Jets beat the Dolphins on Sunday night.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Denver, where I used to enjoy watching one of the all-time greats play quarterback, and where I look forward to catching up with another on Sunday.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Asked about the organizational decision not to deactivate Braylon Edwards(notes) for Sunday night's game in Miami following his DUI arrest, Jets owner Woody Johnson confided to me that ''it has nothing to do with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement or with our lack of depth at the position – it's that I have him on my fantasy team.''

2. Bothered by the efforts of some University of Texas students to have the date of next year's Red River Shootout changed to avoid a conflict with the holiest Jewish holiday, Longhorns coach Mack Brown campaigned to state legislators to have Yom Kippur moved back a week.

3. After Ravens offensive line assistant Andy Moeller was arrested for driving under the influence, he made a jailhouse call to his father, former Detroit Lions and Michigan coach Gary, who asked, ''They won't going to let you go?''

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

Another week, another blowout – this time the Falcons did the honors with a 41-7 thrashing of the Cardinals. So with Atlanta and Tennessee off limits, I'm putting my Week 3 faith in the Patriots. Or, more precisely, I have faith that the team they're playing, the Bills, will roll over in Foxborough. Then again, I thought this in last year's opener, and it took a Leodis McKelvin(notes) brain fart to get me to the next week. Let's hope former Harvard hero Ryan Fitzpatrick's(notes) homecoming isn't a glorious one.

FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK

View gallery

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Best had 232 offensive yards and 3 TDs last week.
(Rick Osentoski/AP Photo)

Because I exhorted her to pick Jahvid Best(notes) no matter what (the 14th overall pick did the trick), and because she is shrewd enough to know that Peyton Manning(notes) (11th overall) tends to do whatever he wants on the football field, UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb has a hell of a one-two punch going two weeks into the fantasy season. In fact, The VIP Room (2-0) has the high point total in her league, "The Old and The New," heading into this week's matchup against "Favre, Favre Away" (quarterbacked by Guess Who, and owned by Cal assistant Charmin Smith). The problem is that, because Gottlieb was busy on draft day and deputized her sister, Suzy – whose long list of attributes, it seems, does not include an exhaustive knowledge of pro football – some of the instructions got lost in the translation, and sleepers like Mike Wallace(notes), Dexter McCluster(notes), Jordan Shipley(notes) and Marshawn Lynch(notes) got taken a bit high, at the expense of a legitimate roster. As Lindsay put it on Thursday, "I'm leading the league because of Jahvid and Peyton, but my team kind of sucks." Agreed – when you're choosing between Lynch, Beanie Wells(notes), Wallace, Kenny Britt(notes), McCluster and Shipley for three RB/WR/flex spots (we went with Lynch, Wells and McCluster, hoping for some return magic from the latter, along with stalwarts Best, Greg Jennings(notes), Chris Cooley(notes), Nick Folk(notes) and the Dolphins' defense), you are not championship material. The solution? Given that my advice helped Gottlieb land both the No. 1 (Manning) and No. 2 (Jay Cutler(notes)) point scorers to date at the quarterback position, and that only one can play at a time, she's offering up Cutler as trade bait, hoping to come away with a No. 1 receiver and a quality backup QB. Among the proposals Gottlieb made to one opposing team owner: Cutler for Carson Palmer(notes) and either Miles Austin(notes), Calvin Johnson(notes) or Matt Forte(notes). Let's hope the guy is more reasonable than A.J. Smith.

For more reluctant fantasy advice – and equally loud analysis from an Oski-the-Bear-displaying guru – check out this week's "Fantasy and Reality." And to have your question answered on a future episode, holler at me and Brad Evans at fantasyreality@yahoo.com.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

Remember a couple of years back when I told you about Safe Ride Solutions, the DUI prevention venture described as "like having a AAA card for partying" by one of its founders, longtime NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal(notes)? Wouldn't it have been awesome if Braylon Edwards and his two Jets teammates had used the service last Monday night, which would have meant calling an 800 number that would have dispatched an off-duty police officer to drive them home (and, if they chose, to another bar or two on the way) in their own cars on a confidential basis? Well, I'm told that several NFL teams used the service last season, when it was available to players as part of an arrangement with the league (and endorsed by commissioner Roger Goodell) – but that the NFLPA ended the association over the offseason, instead referring players to another service which wasn't as devoted to DUI prevention/education. None of this excuses Edwards for his poor judgment, especially given that he was with Donte' Stallworth(notes) shortly before his then-Browns-teammate struck and killed a motorist while under the influence of alcohol. However, I do think Safe Ride Solutions or a similar DUI prevention program could save a lot of legal hassles – and possibly some lives – if adopted by sports leagues on a widespread basis.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Dexter McCluster, for being an exciting addition to the NFL – and for reminding me and all you other distracted drivers what not to do behind the wheel.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

After a 10-0 start, the Golden Bears' eighth-ranked women's volleyball team begins Pac-10 play Friday with a match at Arizona, meaning Carli Lloyd and company can probably hang around Tucson long enough to watch Cal's football team try to shake off last week's debacle in Reno and take down the 14th-ranked Wildcats. Because, you know, the University of California can't lose to every bordering state's flagship university in football.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

police search fail

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

When Braylon Edwards joined the Jets last October, the Big Apple was abuzz with excitement, and general manager Mike Tannenbaum was singing an upbeat song. Now? Well, no one associated with the Jets wants to read Edwards and buzz in the same sentence, and I'm turning to the timeless wisdom of the Fat Man (and, more precisely, writing partner Robert Hunter) for Tannenbaum's vocal inspiration. To the tune of the Grateful Dead's "Casey Jones":

Driving that Range, high on champagne
Braylon Edwards better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
Guess gettin' a limo, didn't cross your mind

Did your teammates have a good time?
Left Hudson Terrace 'bout a quarter to nine
Brick felt sick and Gholston was through
At a quarter to ten Braylon was drivin' again

Driving that Range, high on champagne
Braylon Edwards better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
Guess takin' a taxi, didn't cross your mind

Trouble ahead, jailhouse bed
Take my word, you just lost you some bread
Cleveland's laughing, King James smiling too
Cause Karma's a bitch and headed for you

Driving that Range, high on champagne
Braylon Edwards better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
Guess callin' that hotline, didn't cross your mind

Trouble with you is you're fast and you're tall
Got two good arms but you still drop balls
Windows tinted, you stopped and squinted
The siren screamed – time to find a new team

Driving that Range, high on champagne
Braylon Edwards better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
Ohio probation didn't cross your mind

Driving that Range, high on champagne
Braylon Edwards better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
Guess gettin' a limo, didn't cross your mind

Guess gettin' a limo, didn't cross your mi-i-i-i-ind …