Most National Football League fans think their team's final preseason game doesn't mean anything. The media refers to game three of the preseason as the 'dress rehearsal', while game four usually gets nary a mention. I totally get why most fans feel this way.
Prior to having been a part of an NFL organization, I felt the same. I remember back in my pre-Texans days quickly glancing at the final preseason games, not really putting much stock into contests that featured a bunch of players I didn't recognize. The team's biggest stars rarely, if ever, suit up for this final matchup, and to the average Joe, there seems to be nothing meaningful happening in these final snaps before the regular season.
I'm here to tell you this game not only matters, but means more to some players than any other game they may play the rest of their lives.
Each NFL team starts training camp with 90 players, all with hopes of making the final squad that will compete on Sundays in the fall. Along the way their are two cut dates, which essentially trim the team down to the final 53-man list that fans cheer for to begin the season. Every year, many careers fall to the way side this time of year, with the journey coming to an abrupt end for those that fail to make the final cut.
This past Tuesday, the Texans trimmed that beginning total down to 75 players, effectively ending a dream for 15 others. Of those 75 that remain Texans as of this morning, the window is closing fast. The team will hit the field for tonight's game, and then in the span of 48 hours, that 75 total will be whittled down to 53.
Think about that. 22 players that will suit up for the Texans tonight will no longer be a part of the organization by Saturday. It's a cold, hard but necessary part of life in the NFL. This game is also a busines, and the wheels keep turning whether you are on the bus or not.
So, while you might not know some of the players in Texans jerseys tonight, know that their immediate football future hangs in the balance. The numbers on that field are people. People with families, loved ones and people who are hoping to continue a dream that probably began when they were old enough to start walking. I don't personally know all 75 remaining players on our squad, but I've seen them around our building. I know the greuling work they've put in, and I'm aware of the taxing schedule they've gone though to get to this point. Yet, for some of them, tonight will be the end of their line in Houston, and maybe ever. By Saturday, they'll have vanished from our official roster, becoming nomads in search of their next home. If they are lucky enough to get that chance at all. Tonight may be the last time they ever put on shoulder pads.
If the Texans appearance on Hard Knocks last year taught us anything, it showed us the personal side of what this life is like. I rewatched the final episode of last year's series, and the words spoken by many of the players featured still ring true today. In a scene with head coach Bill O'Brien and Texans general manager Rick Smith, Smith uttered a phrase that stuck with me. When discussing defensive end Kourtnei Brown, who did not end up making the Texans roster out of training camp, Smith said that Brown had to do something to "make that worth the risk".
Voice of the Texans Marc Vandermeer likes to say that 'jobs are won and lost' in the final game, and that couldn't be more true. That's what it comes down to.
An entire career, an entire life and 48 minutes of football.
Remember, that's what on the line tonight. That's why it matters.