- David Fleming, ESPN Senior Writer
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A couple years ago I had dinner with Texans running back Arian Foster at Del Frisco’s steak house in Houston, and after a nice meal and a pleasant chat -- a discussion that, at one point, veered off into whether Buddha’s Third Noble Truth can be attained through pro football -- we stood at the valet stand waiting for our vehicles when a young, attractive woman noticed Foster and blurted out:
“Wow, you are so damn good-looking, Adrian.”
Foster had just led the league in rushing and here we were, maybe five miles from Reliant Stadium, and fans were still getting the poor guy’s name wrong.
My point is: Don’t be ashamed. You’re not alone. I know you take a great deal of special pride in being The Football Guy. You know, all those fantasy football teams you run, that one triple-reverse you orchestrated to win your flag football championship, and that one time you’re pretty sure you sat two seats away from Dermontti Dawson on that flight to Lexington.
So stop cramming late at night and beating yourself up during the day over the fact that the 4-0 Texans are the hottest, coolest, trendiest team in the NFL right now -- and you, my so-called die-hard NFL junkie friend, don’t know the first thing about them.
Now, stop it, you can’t blame this on the replacement refs, too. It’s not their fault.
The truth is, while a first-class organization all the way, the actual Texans team has been a bit of a nonfactor for most of its first decade. (The only reason I know this is I’ve been writing about them seemingly nonstop in ESPN The Magazine, ever since we first declared them the "It" team, oh, um ... [cough] four years ago .... ahhhheeemmm.)
So it’s understandable, newbie, that you still might want to add a "W" or a "P" or god knows what else to the pronunciation of QB Matt Schaub’s name. (Between you and me: it goes SH- plus OBB and rhymes with JOB.)
Or that you thought J.J. Watt was some kind of energy-efficient light bulb, not a Texans defensive end who is my Defensive Player of the Year for the first quarter of the season (7.5 sacks already).
Or that you once asked about tickets to "Battle Red," thinking it was about a war movie on Mars starring Denise Richards, not a rallying cry for Houston fans, usually during divisional games late in the season, when the Texans wear their red alternate third jerseys.
Now, now, don’t worry, your secret is safe with Uncle Flem. I’m here to help.
Using the formula we perfected in years past, when the Falcons and Lions snuck up on everyone, I’ve created the Flem File’s Official Houston Texans 10-Step Cheat Sheet for fans who want to keep pretending that they’re totally informed and up to speed on the best team in the NFL.
STEP 1. Remember, you’re not trying to become the biggest or most authentic Texans expert in the world, you just want to learn enough not to lose your NFL cred with your buds. Think of it this way: We don’t want to become accountants, we just want to learn enough to pass the final so we can graduate.
I don’t want you to learn Arian Foster’s height, weight and yards per carry -- come on, any sap can look that up in three clicks. Obscure data repeated loudly and with confidence gives the greatest illusion of actual knowledge (it’s also the formula for 99 percent of sports radio).
So write down these actual tidbits on Foster on 3x5 flash cards, memorize them, and blurt them out during the MNF game each time he pulls off a big carry:
• A. Yes, he’s a vegan now, but a couple years ago at Del Frisco, the dude ordered a porterhouse steak the size of a tennis racket.
• B. The first time he played against Ray Lewis, Foster was sure the Hall of Fame linebacker had no idea who he was, but Lewis grabbed him by the face mask and yelled, “I love the way you play this game, son!”
• C. The Saints, Giants, Jets and Bucs all had interest in signing Foster as an undrafted rookie free agent, but he picked the Texans based on Internet research conducted by ... his girlfriend.
• D. During a frustrating senior season at Tennessee, Foster tried to diffuse media scrutiny by claiming to speak pterodactyl. This stuff is just odd enough that someone might make the mistake of challenging you on its veracity. Boom! Force him to Google it. Then mock him endlessly -- and thus deflect attention away from yourself -- for trying to jump on the Texans' bandwagon.
STEP 2. Casual fans can tell you all the good stuff about a team, like the fact that Schaub is currently ranked third in QB rating or that Watt leads the league in sacks. Big deal.
So take a few minutes to work up some really good fake concern about the team’s weaknesses.
A fake fan says: “Hey, cool, we’re only giving up 90.3 yards per game on the ground.”
A real fake fan says: “Don’t get me wrong, I love our front seven on defense, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned about letting Chris Johnson run for 141 yards on 5.6 yards per carry last week.”
A fake fan says: “Wow, we’re ranked first in the AFC in passing defense.”
A real fake fan says: “Yeah, but Mark Sanchez had a career day against us in 2010 when he threw for 315 yards and a last-second game-winning TD, and that’s got me worried big time.”
A fake fan says: “Foster’s on track to lead the league in rushing again.”
A real fake fan says: “Even with his incredible training and nutrition regimen, what will Foster have left for the playoffs if he stays on track for 412 carries this season? We need him fresh in January, ya know.”
STEP 3. Most casual fans know the head coach’s name. It’s Gary Kubiak, by the way. Born in Houston. QB at Texas A&M? Former offensive coordinator during John Elway’s glory years in Denver? Sons: Klint, Klay, Klein? (Geez, this is worse than I thought.)
So every now and then, if you really want people to think you know the team, throw out an assistant coach’s name and background.
Try this: If Foster is having a big day rushing against the Jets (and, let’s face it, doesn’t everyone?), in a casual tone that suggests everyone should know this info, say something like: “Wow, this much sprinting must make running backs coach Chick Harris think he’s back on the track team at Northern Arizona.”
Or: “If we keep scoring like this, Chick Harris will think he’s back with the Detroit Wheels in the World Football League!”
Or: “Chick Harris hasn’t had this many options since the 1996 NFC Championship Game with Tshimanga Biakabutuka, Brad Hoover and Fred Lane!”
STEP 4. This is an oldie but a goodie. It’s inspired by my dad, a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan who once made my mom memorize the team’s offensive linemen.
Yes, she can still recite it.
And, um, yeah, they got divorced.
Anyway, the Texans' blockers are: Duane Brown (LT), Wade Smith (LG), Chris Myers (C), Antoine Caldwell (RG) and Derek Newton (RT). Try this trick to help you memorize the Texans offensive line:
Barbeque Shrimp Makes Cowboys Nauseous.
Brown. Smith. Myers. Caldwell. Newton.
STEP 5. Here’s a secret: Just because you’ve never been within 50 miles of Reliant Stadium doesn’t mean you can’t make it sound like you have.
Repeat after me: The closest Starbucks? In the Kroger up past the stadium on Kirby.
Ever seen Reliant at night? From the 610 it looks like the Death Star.
How big is it? The Astrodome is right next door and it looks like a cup holder attached to Reliant.
For the advanced fake fan -- and, only to be used in case of emergency, like, to cover your tracks after you call the Texans QB Matt Shwab -- try this: I bet most people think those six incredible sculptures of Spanish fighting bulls at each entrance are some kind of Remington rip-off, but actually they were done by Walter Matia.
I know. I know. Not bad for a guy who spent so much time in Cleveland, right?
STEP 6. Andre Johnson isn’t just the best player on the Texans, he’s probably the best wide receiver of this generation. But don’t talk stats. Again, predictable.
Instead, go beyond the numbers and talk about how on his college team at Miami, one of the most talent-rich rosters in NCAA history -- over three drafts, 23 players were taken from the 2001 Hurricanes, including 11 in the first round -- ’Dre was the one teammates referred to as “Superman.”
Without question, someone will bring up the fact that Johnson is quiet. Jump on this. First of all, tell them, did you know that he actually hates that label and says it’s not really the way he is? (It’s not.)
And, you know what, how talkative would you be if, like Andre, while growing up in Carol City, Fla., in the span of three years, from 2002 to 2004, you lived through the murder of your father, uncle and best friend?
STEP 7. Do not, under any circumstance, EVER, perform Arian Foster’s touchdown bow. It’s great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just too popular to help you distinguish yourself as more than just a casual fan of the team.
You may, however, on occasion, recreate defensive end Antonio Smith’s "Ninja Assassin Slash of Death" sack dance. There’s a pretty funny video on the team’s website featuring nose tackle Shaun Cody interviewing Smith on ninja skills he says he acquired in “a month ... online.”
But here it is in a nutshell: Sack the QB (or, in your case, finish your beer) and then, while walking upfield, pretend to take out your ninja sword, point it toward the heavens (with your other hand on your hip, which seems more like a pirate than "Kill Bill," but, OK), and then put the imaginary sword back before striking a pose with your knees bent and your arms in the air that makes you look like either B.J. Raji trying yoga, a ref with sciatica trying to signal touchdown, or Mary Katherine Gallagher from "SNL."
STEP 8. Don’t ask me why, don’t question it, you just need to know this stuff:
The Texans don’t wear white. They were “Liberty” white.
Ever heard of the Houston Texans Bull Pen Pep Band? Me neither. But it’s a 45-person band that performs at games and, afterward, marches through the stadium while playing in what is known as the 5th Quarter.
The previous NFL franchise in Houston was, of course, the Oilers. But did you know that in 47 years they never started 4-0?
The mascot’s name is Toro. It’s a blue bull, not a riding mower.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Phillip Supernaw is a promising tight end on our practice squad who attended Ouachita Baptist University. We were almost called the Apollos or the Stallions. (Honest.) Remember when we all wanted the team to draft Vince Young? Ha! What were we thinking? Do you miss DeMeco Ryans? I miss DeMeco Ryans. And Eric Winston, too.
Question: What’s the difference between the Dallas Cowboys and a dollar?
Answer: You can still get four quarters out of a dollar.
STEP 9. Like I said earlier, most people don’t know a lot about vastly underrated Texans QB Matt Schaub. So you need to.
He played at Virginia where, it’s true, he had a little bit of a ’fro going in college. He’s excelling at play-action this season, using it on about a third of his passes and getting 12 yards per attempt when he does.
Yeah, he lost part of his ear on a gruesome hit a few weeks ago. But don’t bring this up. Either refer to him as the Player of the Ear or joke that he really likes to send Johnson on those deep Van Gogh routes.
He was the 2010 Pro Bowl MVP. If he looks tired all the time, it’s because he is: He has three daughters -- Madison and twins Makayla and Mackenzie -- all under the age of 3.
STEP 10. This time of year only the most (obsessed) dedicated fans would even be thinking of next year’s draft.
But, as I’ve said many times before, here’s the genius behind this move: I have no idea on earth who the Texans might pick in April’s draft. But guess what? Neither does anyone else!
Translation: instant and unchallengeable expertise, the hallmark of any great fake fan.
First of all, you must take for granted that we’ll be picking late in the first round because of our deep playoff run.
Then, suggest that, maybe, the 2013 draft is the time to finally clear up our problems at the No. 2 receiver slot (people complain about this almost as much as the turf inside Reliant Stadium). Say it’s gonna be either Cal wideout Keenan Allen, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin or, oooh, maybe we’ll get lucky and USC’s Robert Woods will still be around when we pick at, ya know -- No. 32.
If all else fails in your quest to become a real fake fan of the Houston Texans, just try to remember this:
Barbeque Shrimp Makes Cowboys Nauseous.