Texans v. Cowboys – a rivalry as big as the state of Texas. One that incites individuals upon first thought and which brings out the bad side of people whose nature is generally good. It is that rivalry that is not only anticipated throughout the entire year, but it is one that reminds fans that sometimes rivalries can get out of hand and “require” regulation beyond imagination.
Rewind to the 2010 regular season game where Houston hosted Dallas on a muggy Sunday afternoon. Cowboys and Texans fans began arriving at Reliant Stadium, as usual, around 7:30am. The tailgating “masters” began setting up elaborate and enviable tailgating situations, and the smells of the best barbecue in life emanated from pits larger than Texas itself. And people continued to come….
Prior to this game, tailgating had become a detailed event. Months and months of planning went into securing the perfect parking pass into the lot of choice surrounding Reliant Stadium, obtaining the appropriate decorations, and planning the most challenging and satisfying tailgating menu. Menus ranged outside of the traditional BBQ staples and included brunch options such as hashbrowns, steak, eggs, and beer, to shrimp po-boys, crawfish etouffee, oysters and beer. And the best part of it all was that anyone was welcome onto the grounds, regardless of whether they had a ticket to the game or not. Invariably, hundreds or thousands of fans would arrive at THE TAILGATE to socialize, bounce from tent to tent, and satisfy their craving for great food and… average football. Even though the Texans had struggled to win games, you couldn’t tell based on the amount of supporters that just wanted to be close enough to the action and who would still root for the team regardless of the score. Yes, that was tailgating at its finest… And then the Cowboys came to town.
Stadium officials estimated that over 20,000 non-ticketed fans arrived in the lots surrounding Reliant “looking for trouble.” On the nightly news, stories ran showing not-s0-shocking clips of random fights breaking out between Cowboys and Texans fans while on Reliant Stadium grounds. This came as no surprise to Houstonians who fully expected that 1) passions would run deep on this day in particular; and 2) Cowboys fans can hardly control themselves in civilized settings such as a Texans tailgate. Yes, all the blame was placed on the visiting team, so fans thought.
And then the impossible happened which has changed the culture of Texans games forever….the team regulated the tailgate….
In what has felt like the perpetual sucker punch, the team issued a list of “rules” for tailgating which included allowing only certain people onto the grounds before and during games: a) those holding a gameday ticket; b) those holding a special and limited amount of “tailgating passes”. The clever fans who scoffed at these new rules figured that the rules could be bent by simply going onto eBay like always and purchasing a parking pass. NEGATIVE, the Texans thought of everything. In order to park your truck on the lot for the tailgate, not only must the vehicle have a parking pass, but the driver AND everyone in the vehicle must have a tailgating pass. Oh, and the real kicker – tailgating passes are only given to season ticket holders who are allotted 10 passes per game.
The new regulations not only disappointed fans (including this writer) who had planned serious tailgating situations for upcoming games, but it left a bad taste in the mouth of everyone EXCEPT season ticket holders, for whom the rules were allegedly meant to protect.
While there is a worthy argument to make that season ticket holders should have the right to park and not be disturbed by non-ticketed persons, there is a greater argument for allowing tax-paying Houstonians the ability to enjoy the tailgate. At times inside the stadium, it was the roar of the tailgating crowd still outside the stadium deep into the later quarters of the game that propelled the players to play harder even when fatigued. The heart of the team is truly in the support given by fans who will do anything to be part of the action. When that excitement was stifled, it was almost as if a schism was caused between the team and the fans who loved the team the most.
Since that fateful 2010 day when rowdy Cowboys fans ruined EVERYTHING for Texans fans (typical of Dallas…) Houstonians have held their breath in hopes of seeing the regulations slackened. Instead, the regulations seem to become more stringent each year. An almost two page list of tailgating rules appears prominently on the Texans’ website. The level of effort the team has applied to avoid a repeat of the 2010 Dallas/Houston game raises a significant question regarding the game of football and the relationship between the fans and the team itself — is it a right or a privilege to be a football fan? In many ways, the Texans’ management has decided the latter.