The Houston Texans have a problem. Whether it's a debilitating one is uncertain.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the Texans were forced to postpone their home opener until Oct. 5 and may not be able to play at state-of-the-art Reliant Stadium because of damage to the retractable roof.
In addition, several players are dealing with severe damage to their homes that will require the usual array of insurance adjusters, contractors and a myriad of paperwork. While hardly overwhelming, it's the kind of situation that could be a stumbling block for a franchise on the cusp of becoming a contender.
Such a situation begs the questions:
Do the Texans become something like the 2005 Saints, who saw their season fall apart in a 3-13 post-hurricane mess?
Do they become the 1992 Dolphins, who dealt with a new schedule by going 6-0 to open the season, 11-5 overall and making the AFC championship game?
Or do they stay mired in mediocrity the way their predecessor, the Oilers/Titans, did from 1996-98 when the team juggled its home venues?
"Well, it is difficult," said Houston owner Bob McNair, who went out of his way to note that people in other areas such as Galveston experienced much worse damage. "This is a distraction and certainly one that should be a distraction because there is human loss involved. And we are very concerned about that. But everybody has come together and is working well."
For the Texans, this comes at a critical time in the team's development. Houston was 8-8 last season, its first non-losing campaign since joining the NFL in 2002. The Texans started to show promise under coach Gary Kubiak, quarterback Matt Schaub and defensive end Mario Williams, leading some to predict a playoff run this season despite playing in the stacked AFC South.
Now, some players – such as defensive tackle Travis Johnson – are just worried about fixing the roof over their head and trying to get back into their homes.
While Johnson's situation is hardly as bad as those who don't have his financial wherewithal, trying to focus on football isn't easy … particularly when it appears that your home is a total loss.
"Well, the insurance is going to say whether it is or not, but right not it's not looking like that," said Johnson, who is married with three children. "Like I said, I'm blessed to have somewhere else to go and to have food to put in my stomach and to feed my kids … I'll be alright."
Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson, who grew up in South Florida and has dealt with hurricanes before, said he was surprised by the amount of damage.
"It was bad. It was worse than what I actually thought it would be," said Johnson, who had teammates staying at his home because he was lucky enough to still have power. "After the hurricane was over, I just got in my truck and rode around to look at some of the things and the most shocking thing was when I saw pieces of the stadium missing from the roof."
Houston general manager Rick Smith said he had been in contact with New Orleans counterpart Mickey Loomis, who had to deal with a far more severe situation in 2005. After Hurricane Katrina caused flooding that crippled New Orleans, the Saints were essentially forced to play their entire season on the road. The team moved to San Antonio and played home games there, New York and Baton Rouge, La.
For the Texans, the situation is far less bleak. Reliant suffered damage to the retractable roof, but McNair said there didn't appear to be much other damage. If the roof can be repaired in time or the stadium can operate with an open roof, the Texans will play host to the Colts on Oct. 5. If not, McNair said the other possibility is playing at nearby Rice Stadium.
The downside for the Texans, who had to reschedule their home game against Baltimore from last Sunday to Nov. 9, is that they will now play their first three games on the road. Houston was trounced in its opener at Pittsburgh and now must travel to Tennessee this Sunday to face one of the best defenses in the league before going to Jacksonville on Sept. 28.
"It's obviously a tough situation, but it's one that we have no control over and we just have to go out and play good, fundamentally sound, smart football to be successful," Schaub said. "Whether it's here, whether it's a neutral site or whether it's on the road, that's what we have to focus on."
Conversely, the Texans will get some benefit. Because of the rescheduling, which included moving a home game against Cincinnati to Oct. 26, Houston will play four consecutive home games and a total of five home games over a six-week period. Playing even three consecutive home games in the NFL is rare.
Regardless of how the Reliant situation plays out, the Texans don't expect to move around nearly as much as their predecessors. From 1996-99, the former Houston franchise played its home games in four venues (Houston's Astrodome; Liberty Bowl in Memphis; Nashville's Vanderbilt Stadium; and LP Field, its current home).
Coach Jeff Fisher said the experience of moving helped bring the team closer, but the positive effects only took hold over time. In 1999, Tennessee finally played at home regularly, went 13-3 and made the Super Bowl.
Perhaps the Texans' situation more closely resembles that of the 1992 Dolphins, who had their home opener against New England rescheduled in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew – an exceptionally powerful storm that narrowly missed the area where the Dolphins play, inflicting most of its damage south of Miami.
With players and the rest of the team facing few problems, the Dolphins got off to an exceptionally fast start. The team even hosted the AFC championship game that season, losing to Buffalo.
"It wasn't really a big deal for us after the first week or two," former Dolphins offensive tackle Richmond Webb said. "We missed the opener, but by the time we played at home again, it was like we were a relief for everybody. People were happy that they got to see football after all that mess."
As for the Texans, Schaub said the key is to maintain focus.
"It's tough for anybody to go through, but it's some adversity with this game and life in general," he said. "When we get between these white lines and in those meeting rooms, we just have to focus all we can on what it takes to be successful this week and in this game. And once we leave here, we can start thinking about those other things and what it takes to get our families and everything in order."
- the Texans