The Texans invited fans to submit their best Texans stories for a chance to be featured on the team's 2011 season tickets in the "Your Story, Your Glory" contest.
Selected to be on the ticket for tonight's preseason game against the New Orleans Saints were Bryan and Willie O'Neil, a father-and-son from Spring, Texas. This is their story, as told by Bryan:
"I grew up as a 'Luv Ya Blue' kid and actually met my wife during the last preseason of the Houston Oilers, and when they left town, it kind of ripped away my childhood and I didn't watch the NFL for about six years. And then (Texans chairman and CEO) Mr. (Bob) McNair brought the Texans in, and I had a young son – my oldest boy, Charlie – and that became a part of our deal. It's something we do together to bond, and I think my kids love it as much as I did when I was their age.
"Houston is my town. It's where I've always lived, and when the Texans came to town, they became my team and they're my team no matter what. The Texans are more than just football. It's a part of the city, a part of who we are, and it's a part of a family experience that probably not many people can understand.
"On Sundays, we get up and if it's an early game, we talk to Momma about skipping church and we come down a little early so that we can tailgate. And the boys, they run around and play football in the Red Lot, and I meet up with a friend of mine and we do some tailgating. My oldest boy likes to come in real early. He wants to see 'em warm up, so we come in the stadium a couple hours early and he walks over to the other end. We're in the Bull Pen, so he walks over to the south side and Willie and I hang out and we get our food and sit there and get ready to cheer on the team.
"The atmosphere in the Bull Pen is unbelievable. I mean, you stand the whole game, and that can be a challenge. For Willie, I think sometimes it's even harder because he's about three feet tall. But he gets to stand on the seat a little bit and stomp his feet and yell 'First down!', so it's just a great place to be.
"The most excited I've ever seen Willie at a game is when the Texans played the Bears a few years ago and it was just a great game. Willie really got into it. He paid attention to the whole thing. He was still pretty young; he was about four years old. It was great just watching him stomp on the seats and yell 'First down!' The Texans got a lot of first downs that day.
"Going to the games is something that we didn't get to do a lot when I was a kid. We went to Oilers games when we could, but we didn't get to go all the time, and so to have that time set aside with my kids when everything's so busy is just incredible.
"It's affecting Willie's hobbies because he just loves sports, and he's been asking me for about three years now how to play football. That's something as a dad (that) I'm trying to put off a little bit. He's still a little bit young, but he's going to try to play flag football this year and then we'll get into the tackle football the next year. He loves doing it. He loves wearing the pads. I don't know how many times he's almost knocked me off my chair running across the room and tackling me.
"Something that's unique about a Texans game, I think, is the tailgating. I had the opportunity to take my oldest son to Nashville last year to see the Texans-Titans game, and we noticed that the tailgating isn't anywhere near what it is here. The people get together, and it's like a big family. You're always welcome at somebody's tent. Lots of food, lots of drinking, lots of good times. I think the other thing is the way the Bull Pen Pep Band comes up at halftime and plays at the top of the Bull Pen. You just don't see that (at other stadiums). Everybody gathers around and gets excited to see them. It's just a neat place to see a game.
"The reason that we come here and watch the game is that you're a part of it. If you're on a couch, you're listening to what Dan Fouts tells you or whoever. When you're at the game, you get to hear the crowd, you get to smell the popcorn and the beer. The atmosphere is just so much different than being on your couch. It's pretty easy to be on your couch, but the experience and the payoff is better when you show up for the game.
"The way we introduce the players with the flames flying out next to the bull and the players running out and TORO charging out on his four-wheeler, those are the things that make the environment what it is and get the crowd going early. We've got an offense that really plays well and up-tempo, and that helps keep the crowd in it. Those are the kinds of things you can really look forward to and keep you going at the game. You can't get this experience anywhere else."