Saturday morning I was forced to make an early exit from my downtown Dallas hotel.
The route of the annual Dallas Christmas parade, which was scheduled to start at 10 AM, was headed down Commerce Street right in front of my hotel and street closures would begin at 6 AM. If folks (like me) had a car in their garage, it had to be claimed before 6 otherwise I’d be trapped in Dallas until late afternoon.
After breakfast, I took a nice tour of Minute Maid Park, home of the 2017 World Champion Astros. Houston is a huge city, the 4th biggest in the US, and has a sprawling layout. It is not nearly as tourist friendly as Dallas and has a lot less points of interest. Probably my favorite things were visiting the St. Arnold Brewery and beer garden, hanging out in Market Square Park and taking a Sunday morning walk along Buffalo Bayou. Downtown Main Street by my hotel had a lot of nice bars and restaurants and a lively crowd on Saturday night including the awesome dive I found called the Little Dipper Lounge
Around 11 AM today, I called for my Uber to the stadium which is about a 25-minute drive from downtown. While I was waiting, a man from Amarillo, admittedly hungover, came over and introduced himself to me and went on to tell me how much Texas has changed and was all “going to shit”.
NRG Stadium is about eight miles southwest of downtown Houston, within the Inner Loop of the southern portion of I-610, between Kirby Street and Fannin Street. This area is known as the Houston Medical District, and is near the Houston Zoo and Rice University.
The stadium is very impressive at first sight. Built in 2002, it’s one of the newer venues in the league and has a very sleek and modern design. It’s a bit of a pioneer being the first NFL stadium with a fully retractable roof. Despite being 16 years old, it has a ‘showroom’ new look and feel to it. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and all aspects of the stadium inside and out are perfectly maintained. Getting through the gates and around the concourses was really easy.
As impressed as I was with NRG Stadium, my real excitement came when I saw the Astrodome sitting next to it. Built in 1965, it was once marveled as one the greatest architectural achievements in the history of sports venues. It was the first indoor/domed, fully air-conditioned football and baseball stadium. When it was built, it was dubbed the ‘8th wonder of the world’ and was for decades the home of the Houston Astros and Houston Oilers. In addition, Muhammad Ali defended his title four times there and Elvis Presley performed in concert there.
Before game time, there were numerous live bands playing in the different club areas, such as The Cantina, Bud Light Plaza, and in the Fanzone making for a real party atmosphere.
Shortly before kickoff, there was a singalong to ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ then an honor to George H.W. Bush who passed away right here in Houston just 2 days earlier.
Then, there was the emergence of Toro, the Texans mascot, riding out onto the field accompanied by some head-banging music and pyrotechnics – followed by the announcement of the Texans starting lineup. The biggest cheers came for Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and especially for J.J. Watt
The fans here today were every bit as enthusiastic as they were in Dallas on Thursday, although the matchup was not nearly as exciting. But the 2018 Browns are on the upswing led by #1 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winning QB Baker Mayfield. After going 1-31 previous 2 seasons, the Browns have been competitive and have built up a nice fanbase. There were actually plenty of fans in attendance wearing Browns jerseys.
The Texans had the game in hand from the start, jumping out to a 23-0 halftime lead highlighted by 3 Kai Fairbairn FGs and a pick-six on a pass thrown by Mayfield. The Browns fared better in the second half, but it wasn’t enough and the Texans went on to win 29-13 for their 9th straight win after dropping their first three games of the season.
Getting an Uber from the stadium back to downtown was very easy and organized (unlike in Dallas on Thursday). I got the jump on the crowd by leaving with about 5 minutes left in the game.
Fitting for Texas, the size of both the Dallas and Houston stadiums is impressive as is the level of fan enthusiasm. I can only imagine the scene if these two teams ever play each other in the Super Bowl.
It’s hard to believe another season for my travels is done and in the books. There is still plenty of good football to watch on TV though. This leaves me with only 7 more stadiums yet to visit – two of them which are still being built. I’m looking forward to it.
Fans – A – Few fans love their football as much as Texans do. Very friendly folks
Features – B – Very well maintained stadium with lots of common gathering areas to watch the game action. Very cool to be right next to the Astrodome
Location – C – A bit of a haul from downtown Houston. Not a lot to do before or after games in the immediate neighborhood
Food – A+ – Great variety. Lines not very long. Affordable. Great BBQ. St. Arnold’s beer
Game – C – Not much of a contest. Texans had it in hand from the start. Still a fun game.
Overall Experience – B+