CINCINNATI – As the media waited for Texans coach Gary Kubiak to walk in for his postgame press conference, a thunderous cheer erupted from the room next door.
That room was the visiting locker room at Paul Brown Stadium. And the reason for the long, sustained and raucous roar, some 10 minutes after the Texans had beaten the Bengals 20-19, was the end of the Tennessee Titans' game against the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints stopped the Titans near the goal line in the final seconds to win 22-17. That made the Texans the AFC South champs for the first time in their nine-year history.
"Everyone was huddled around the television making sure we weren't celebrating prematurely," rookie quarterback T.J. Yates said. "(The Saints) got the job done. That was pretty cool."
Yates was in middle school when the Texans became the NFL's 32nd franchise in 2002, so the full scope of the situation might have eluded him a bit on Sunday.
It's a day that was a long time coming for the Texans, who had zero playoff appearances and one winning season in their first eight years of existence. It had been an even longer time coming for the city of Houston, which hadn't had an NFL team in the playoffs since the Houston Oilers in 1993. Houston didn't have an NFL team, period, after the Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997 – until Bob McNair brought the Texans to the Bayou City in 2002.
Nine years later, the Texans' owner can enjoy his team's long-awaited first AFC South title.
"I'm happy for our fans, happy for our city, because this is what I got into the NFL for: To bring a championship to Houston," McNair said. "We haven't done that, but this is the first step along that path. I'm just delighted that we're able to have a team that could play this way and get everybody so excited."
Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who grew up in Houston and was a star quarterback at St. Pius High School, coached the Texans to records of 6-10, 8-8, 8-8, 9-7 and 6-10 in his first five seasons. Just about the entire city wanted him fired after last season, but McNair stuck with him.
Kubak has rewarded McNair's patience with by far his best coaching job to date. He has kept the team together like glue despite season-ending injuries to their best defensive player (Mario Williams) and top two quarterbacks (Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart), and hamstring injuries that have sidelined their best offensive player (Andre Johnson) for seven games and counting.
Schaub, Johnson and running back Arian Foster have played together for less than full four quarters this season, yet the Texans are on a team-record seven-game winning streak and have are the only team in the AFC to have clinched a spot in the playoffs.
"I'm happy for Mr. McNair," Kubiak said. "I'm happy for those players that I've been working with. There's coaches on this staff that have been here from the get-go – Joe Marciano, Chick Harris. There's a lot of guys who fought the good fight here with this organization from the start, and then our city, our city's able to say they've got a winner back on their hands today. I'm just proud. I'm a Houstonian, so I'm very proud for the organization, proud for the city today.
"I think we've had one losing season in the last five years here, and that's hard to do in this league, but we couldn't get over the hump. But we keep battling. We got over the hump because we refused to let adversity take us the other way."
After Sunday's game, Kubiak tried to tell his players that they didn't play very well, but they didn't want to listen to him. They were too busy watching the end of the Titans-Saints game, which set off a raucous celebration complete with AFC South Division Champion T-shirts and hats being distributed around the locker room.
Kubiak gave a game ball to Johnson, who was inactive on Sunday with a left hamstring injury. Johnson has been with the Texans since 2003, making him the only player still on the roster from before Kubiak arrived in 2006. The five-time Pro Bowler and most valuable player in franchise history sounded like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders after Sunday's victory.
"Words really can't describe it," Johnson said, a hard-earned smile on his face. "Something I've been waiting for for a long time. I'm just happy, man. The city of Houston deserves it. We've had some great fans that have stuck it out with us. They've been very loyal to us, and this is great for them.
"I've been through a lot here since I've been here with the Texans organization. I always said I wanted to stick it out and be here and help the Texans get to the playoffs and eventually win the Super Bowl. We're not satisfied with this. Guys are excited because it's our first time achieving it, but we have bigger goals."
The primary differences in this team and so many others Johnson has been a part of is defense. The Texans have undergone a tremendous transformation on that side of the ball under Wade Phillips, who was hired in January and has taken the Texans from 30th to first in yards allowed. On Sunday, Kubiak called the defense a "catalyst in everything we have done."
Like Kubiak, Phillips has deep ties to the city of Houston. His father, Bum Phillips, was the legendary head coach of the Oilers during the "Luv Ya Blue" years in the 1970s. Wade played linebacker at the University of Houston and started his NFL career as the defensive line coach on his father's staff from 1976-80.
"I started out here in pro football, and to come back here and have the first division championship, first playoff (berth) is real special," Phillips said. "First of all, it's a big deal for Mr. McNair. I've been with other teams and admired the way he's handled his franchise and the way he's done all the right things but just didn't have anything to show for it for a while. So I'm really proud for Mr. McNair.
"I think Gary Kubiak's a great coach and has showed it this year. It was a tough year going in. Anytime your job's on the line, so to speak – when you've got to be in the playoffs to keep your job – you can't have any more pressure than that, and Gary came through. And then most of all, I'm proud of the players. We've got a tremendous group of players. They've got tremendous heart. We've said that all along."
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, one of Kubiak's first draft picks in 2006 and a team captain since 2007, was asked what he thought about his new "Division Champs" attire.
"This is a good look," Ryans said. "It's an amazing feeling – a great feeling and big sigh of relief. Six years is a long time to wait.
"It's a great feeling; we're in. But for us, this is just the beginning. It's a start for us. We still have another goal to reach."