Your Next NFL Dynasty: The Houston Texans. Yes, Really.
Back in the late 1990's, the NFL was on the brink of returning to Los Angeles. On March 16, 1999 the 31 NFL owners voted to grant a team to LA, contingent on them getting together an ownership team and stadium deal.
However, the city of LA would not allow tax dollars to go to a stadium. The group that was to be the owners of the LA team offered to contribute $540 million towards an NFL team and stadium. That's when Houston (the biggest rival to LA at the time for a team) stepped in with a $700 million offer.
Money talks and the Texans were born.
Now in their eighth season, Houston has gone from doormat to interesting team with promise to bonafide franchise. And it all starts with head coach Gary Kubiak.
It's more than mere chance that Kubiak is the new leader of this young franchise. The head coach was born in Houston and once held the Texas state high school record for career passing yards with 6,190.
He starred at Texas A&M before spending his entire nine-year career as a backup in Denver where he learned a thing or two about winning from the legendary John Elway.
After retirement, Kubiak got into coaching and wound up as the quarterbacks coach for San Francisco in 1994. All that happened that year was that Steve Young had a career year (35 TD, 10 INT, career high 112.8 rating) and won the MVP and the Super Bowl.
Kubiak was then hired to be the offensive coordinator in Denver where he stayed from 1995-2005. During that time the Broncos finished outside the top ten in scoring just one time; the year after Elway's retirement.
Both Brian Griese and Jake Plummer made their only pro bowls while playing under Kubiak and he helped change the way teams run the football in the NFL.
Players like Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and Rueben Droughns turned in 1,000 yard seasons while 6th rounder Terrell Davis and 2nd rounder Clinton Portis became NFL stars and undrafted free agent Rod Smith turned in a hall of fame worthy career.
Then in '05 it was Kubiak's turn to lead a team and he only had two NFL coaches with whom he had worked for in his entire 12-year career: Two-time super bowl winner George Seifert and two-time super bowl winner Mike Shanahan. Will he too find himself as the winner of two Lombardi trophies?
I dare say he will.
But that doesn't mean he didn't need help.
In 2008 he hired Kyle Shanahan (son of Mike) to be his offensive coordinator. Though he doesn't turn 30 until next month, Kyle is a chip off the old block. Houston finished 3rd in the league in yardage last season and currently sits at eighth this year.
Before this season Kubiak also promoted Frank Bush from defensive assistant to defensive coordinator and Houston is 16th in the league in yards allowed which is their best position since their first year in the league.
Gary Kubiak also has his eyes on working to develop another future hall of fame quarterback; the unlikely Matt Schaub.
Unlike Young and Elway, Schaub wasn't the top overall pick and nobody knew what to expect from the Falcons third rounder out of Virginia. It was still unknown how good this preseason star would be when the Texans traded two second round picks to acquire a QB who had only started two regular season games in his career.
It was silly of anyone to doubt Kubiak when it comes to quarterbacks.
After missing five games in each of the last two season, Schaub has taken off and currently leads the NFL in yards, completions, and touchdowns at the seasons halfway point. There's no reason to believe that Schaub won't continue to rise and be a star in this league for a long time and even though he's already 28-years-old, that's nothing compared to Young, who didn't get his first full-time shot in the league until he was 30.
And there's hardly any mileage on that arm of his, so it's not unlikely that Schaub could play for at least another ten years.
Alongside him on offense is superstar WR Andre Johnson. Johnson, also 28, has led the franchise in yards for every season except their first, when he was still playing at the University of Miami. He led the NFL in yards and catches last year and currently is leading in yardage again. Like Young and Rice, Elway and Smith, this tandem is going to go a long way together.
Just like in Denver, don't expect Kubiak and Shanahan to stick to one particular running back. Steve Slaton (another late round find from Kubiak) was a rookie star for this team last year. And though he has struggled to find his groove this year, he's only 23 years old and he's still dynamite when catching the ball out of the backfield, already grabbing 23 balls for 314 yards.
One thing you should learn about Kubiak teams is that it's about a system as much as it's about its players. That's why Ryan Moats has been one of the most talked about players in the league recently after rushing for 126 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo in week eight.
Don't worry, this team will find players.
That's why the season-ending injury to tight end Owen Daniels hurts, but it won't cripple this team.
When Denver won the Super Bowl in 1998, they went 4-0 under backup QB Bubby Brister.
On defense, the Texans are bolstered by smart draft picks like Mario Williams (how many people thought that was the right move on draft day? Honestly, they were calling it the "Reggie Bush Sweepstakes") DeMeco Ryans (2nd rounder and AP Defensive Rookie of the Year) and Brian Cushing (leads all rookies in tackles with 66, which is ten more than 2nd best and 26 more than third best.)
And all of those guys are 25 and under.
The only thing that stands in the way of Houston and a long run of division championships is Indianapolis. A team that's easily on its way to its eighth straight double-digit win total. The Colts haven't won less than 12 games since 2002, the Texans first year in the league.
But a changing of the guard is not uncommon. They have to happen sometime.
In fact, it even happened for the Colts in 1999, the year after Elway retired and Peyton Manning led the them to 13 wins in his second year in the league.
This Sunday the Texans and the Colts will meet for the 15th time in their history. Houston is 1-13 in those first 14 contests, but none will quite be like the ones that will happen this year.
As they sit at 5-3, on the verge of their first winning season, Houston has an opportunity to make their mark on the league and announce "We're Here."
They can't ask for a changing of the guard, they must demand it. Despite the fact that Houston isn't the media market that LA is, they stepped up and demanded a franchise and they received it.
I believe Houston will show that they belong on Sunday, that Kubiak and company will make take the Texans to the playoffs for the first time this year, and eventually win the whole thing. Perhaps, even twice.
Houston, you are the next dynasty. Welcome to the NFL rookie.
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