Picture this. The Cincinnati Bengals offense trots onto the field for its first offensive series. The raucous beat of "Bulls on Parade," performed by Rage Against The Machine, erupts through the loudspeakers at Reliant Stadium. The fans are at a throbbing frenzy. Emotions are raw, goose bumps are likely.
And why not? It's the first NFL playoff game in Houston in 18 years. The fans' postseason lungs are well-rested.
The Bengals better have practiced a silent count.
"It's so important when the crowd is loud for us because it doesn't allow the offense to have a cadence," Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. "When you see us jumping offsides, that's because we can hear the quarterback yapping cadences. But when it's that loud, he not only can't have a cadence to get us to jump offsides, but his tackles can't hear. They're reacting as fast as we are, so we have a jump on them. It's extremely important when the crowd is loud."
The last time Houston pro football fans had a chance to cheer for a playoff team was Jan. 16, 1994, in the Astrodome. Kansas City's Joe Montana pulled off one of his miracle comebacks and beat the Oilers 28-20 in a Divisional playoff game.
The Texans went their first nine seasons without a playoff. Now, the players don't know exactly what to expect from their fans, but they do think it will be loud.
"I can't really describe it, because I know it's going to be really crazy," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "I know it's going to be really loud. If you look at the game here after we clinched, the intensity from the fans was awesome."
The Texans clinched the playoffs on the road with a 20-19 victory over the Bengals and returned home to play the Carolina Panthers. Although they lost that game, the fans already loosened their playoff vocal chords in the first quarter before the Texans fell behind.
"I think that by the playoffs being here now, I think it will be louder than it's ever been in this stadium," Johnson said. "I'm pretty sure they will be here real early. I even have some of my family tailgating, and they don't ever tailgate."
The Texans' defense has adopted "Bulls on Parade" as its theme. Barwin even distributed T-shirts showcasing the nickname that doubles as a pump-up song on gameday.
"Every time the song comes on, we're very excited, and the fans respond well to it," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "Every week, the crowd is getting more and more into it. You can tell, they react real quickly when we put our arms up and ask them to get loud. They've been phenomenal. They've really helped us out."
Coach Gary Kubiak has been in a few playoffs as player and coach. He knows the value of a raucous home crowd.
"They can help us by being real loud," Kubiak said. "They've been that way all year, but I know this city is excited about Saturday afternoon. I just want them to know how excited we are as a football team."
Players say that Houston's 17-10 victory over Atlanta on Dec. 4 was the crowd's best performance so far this season.
"We saw (Falcons quarterback) Matt Ryan walking to each individual player telling them the play," linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Playing on the road is tough for an offense. We're going to use that to our advantage."
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans concurred.
"I go back to the Atlanta game; that sets the standard," Ryans said. "I feel like it was a whole new level for the Atlanta game for our crowd. It's going to be the best our crowd has ever been."
Of course, the Texans realize they have to feed the crowd with big plays to keep the noise level going.
"It benefits a lot if we can get stops and score touchdowns," safety Glover Quin said. "That gets them into it. They have a hard time hearing and so it gives you extra energy.
"The crowd has been great all year. That Atlanta game was loud and the Carolina game after we came home was loud. They've been great. I expect it to be crazy this week, too."
Barwin thinks Saturday will break any noise records.
"I think it will be the loudest it's ever been," he said. "They set the standard for Atlanta. That was a meaningful game here at home, and obviously this one means more. So I think everyone will be loud every time we're on the field."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.