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Texans Are Lone Stars in Opener

Pro football: Expansion team humbles hated Cowboys, 19-10, in NFL debut before 69,604 in Houston.

September 09, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — There are embarrassing gaffes. There are humiliating indignities. Then there's losing to the expansion Houston Texans on national TV, the way the Dallas Cowboys did Sunday night.

With ashen-faced Cowboy owner Jerry Jones nervously pacing the sidelines, the Texans scored twice in the fourth quarter to defeat the Cowboys, 19-10, to join the 1961 Minnesota Vikings as the only expansion teams to win their debut.

The sellout crowd of 69,604 rocked Reliant Stadium--a $440-million glass palace--and roared with approval when David Carr broke a 10-10 tie with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Corey Bradford early in the fourth quarter. Ten minutes later, with 2:37 showing on the clock, the Texans sealed the victory with a safety--Seth Payne sacked Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter in the end zone--and jubilant fans danced in the stands. One held a sign that read, "You can go 1-15, as long as you beat the Cowboys," and that pretty much summed up the emotion of this football-starved city.

"They didn't give us a chance," said Texan running back Jonathan Wells, whose team was an eight-point underdog. "The coaches showed us some clips about what they were talking about. They didn't respect us at all. Some guys said that losing to the Texans would be like Oklahoma losing to Baylor. We took that personally and we came out and got that done."

The Texans won with good defense, sporadic bursts of offense, and by taking advantage of costly Dallas penalties. It was a penalty, in fact, that paved the way to the first touchdown in franchise history.

On the first play from scrimmage, Carr dropped back and fired a long pass for Bradford. But Bradford was roughed up along the sideline by Bryant Westbrook, and the ensuing pass-interference call gave the Texans a first down at the Dallas 21. Three plays later, Carr connected with Billy Miller over the middle, and the former USC player eluded a tackle and stretched the ball across the goal line for a 19-yard touchdown play.

The Texans built a 10-3 halftime lead despite rolling up a mere 82 yards before the intermission, then appeared to be coming apart in the third quarter when Dallas running back Michael Wiley dashed untouched through the defense for a 46-yard touchdown run.

But the Cowboys were unable to sustain the rally, and Carter looked out of sync all night. He was sacked three times, intercepted once, and connected on only 13 of 30 passes.

Teammate Emmitt Smith, who started the season 540 yards shy of Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, gained 67 yards in 17 carries to lead all rushers.

But most of the attention was focused on Carr, the No. 1 pick last spring, who looked fairly polished even though he was under constant pressure. He was sacked six times and threw for only 145 yards, but he would have had another touchdown had receiver Jermaine Lewis held on to a beautiful long pass at the end of the first half. He let it slip through his hands as he was all alone and just a few steps from the end zone.

"I tried to stay pretty relaxed," Carr said. "I tried to stay on an even keel, but when you score on your first drive, it's hard not to get a little excited out there. I was a little excited and I had to calm myself down and sit down a little bit."

The Cowboys were impressed, particularly with his durability.

"He's a real good player," Dallas defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "We hit him, we popped him and got after him. We scratched and clawed to get after him, and he still made the plays that counted."

In all, it was an ideal night for the Texans. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was at the game and toured the stadium with Texan Owner Bob McNair a few hours before kickoff. It was McNair who wrote the $700-million check to outbid Los Angeles for the league's 32nd franchise.

Tagliabue raved about the stadium, which is more than half glass and features pro football's only retractable roof. And the commissioner said he can envision L.A. having a similar facility in the coming years, although there's no indication that will happen anytime soon.

"History tells us that Los Angeles does things on a world-class standard," Tagliabue said. "So at some point there will be a world-class stadium there."

There was nothing world-class about the way Jones was feeling after the game. He stayed and talked to reporters for several minutes after the game, repeatedly heaping praise on the Texans and McNair.

"We didn't expect to lose tonight," he said, finally. "We get to sleep on this for four years and I'm sure this will be with us for a long time."

Meanwhile, his team, which spent the summer as subjects for the Hard Knocks documentary, pulled off a convincing audition for its next HBO special: Six Feet Under.

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