EDITOR'S NOTE: This story appeared in the Texans Gameday Magazine for the Dec. 23 game against the Minnesota Vikings
On the spectrum of notoriety in football, nose tackles often skew toward the anonymous side. It's largely a thankless position, filled by players occupying interior offensive linemen so linebackers and defensive ends have more space to operate and make plays.
But anonymity and Shaun Cody are strangers to each other, even if the eighth-year NFL veteran isn't always known for his exploits on the gridiron.
"Yesterday, I ran into a neighbor of mine in the elevator," Cody said last week. "I don't even think he knows I'm on the team, but he watches the videos religiously. He said, 'Oh, cool, man; you're on the team, too?'"
The 'videos' Cody refers to are the semi-weekly and ever-popular segments he hosts called "On the Nose" on HoustonTexans.com. In 2011, Cody started taking a camera behind the scenes at Reliant Stadium during the week, and all sorts of shenanigans ensued. Cody has since filmed episodes in 40-degree water in the team's cold tub, wearing a luchador mask as he scared teammates entering the locker room on Halloween, dressed as "Cody Claus" as he got teammates to sit on his lap and sing carols last Christmas and leading a mariachi band through the Texans' executive offices. He even filmed an episode last year with Texans chairman and CEO Bob McNair as the interview subject.
Cody's teammates on the defensive line like J.J Watt and Antonio Smith have been frequent contributors to his show, and outside linebacker Connor Barwin has a cameo in every episode.
"I think I've always been this loose," Cody said. "I just never had a hugely successful internet show to show it off. It's the first time that the outside world's had a chance to see it."
Cody's show resonated instantly with fans, but it also struck a chord with the team – including the head coach.
"This is a tough game, practice-wise, work-wise," Gary Kubiak said in a 2011 video about "On the Nose" produced by NFL.com. "You've got to have a sense of perspective, have a sense of humor, and that's why guys like Shaun play a long time in this business."
Cody entered the NFL as the Detroit Lions' second-round pick in the 2005 draft and toiled for four fruitless seasons in the Motor City. The Lions won just 15 games in that span, including an 0-16 season in 2008.
Cody signed with Houston in March of 2009, and the Texans have gone 37-25 since. While having a fun time is great, it doesn't win ballgames. Cody's contributions on the field haven't been flashy but have definitely been appreciated by his teammates.
"People don't really realize Shaun's job," rookie defensive end Jared Crick said. "As a nose tackle, he eats up a lot of double teams on every play. That opens it up for other guys like Antonio, J.J. to have more one-on-one opportunities. Just watching Shaun work and do what he does, it's a very unselfish role, but he does it very well."
Quarterback Matt Schaub echoed that sentiment.
"He's right there in the center of everything," Schaub said. "He's right there on the ball, taking up the A-gaps, keeping the inside linebackers free. His role and his experience at this level really does a lot for us."
Cody's experience has served the Texans well, and his toughness in playing through pain has been an added bonus. In the first preseason game this year, he hurt his back at Carolina. Cody missed the final three preseason contests but was back in the lineup for the Week 1 victory at home over the Dolphins.
A rib injury in Week 9 victory against Buffalo Bills knocked Cody out for the next three games. Before the injury, he had started 52 of 56 games since joining the Texans and played in 50 consecutive games, which was tied for the sixth-longest streak among NFL defensive linemen.
Cody returned in Week 13 at Tennessee with a tackle on the game's first play, and he later tipped a pass that linebacker Tim Dobbins intercepted inside the Titans' 5-yard line.
"When you've seen Shaun be a part of what we're doing, I think you see Antonio and J.J. play better because they're more fresh in what they're doing," Kubiak said on Monday. "And he's played through pain for us all year long, so we're very appreciative of that."
Watt, who's putting up historic numbers this season with 19.5 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 33 tackles for loss, was especially pleased when Cody returned from injury before the win at Tennessee.
"It's great to have Shaun back," Watt said. "He's a great asset to our team. He's very good in the run game, and it's great to have him out there. And obviously a little comic relief, too, so I'm looking forward to that as always."
Watt was in the pilot episode of "On the Nose" last September, teaming up with Cody to show viewers how to properly cover a fumble. They used a tissue box instead of a football. Watt also was the guest star of the 2012 OTN premiere, spending the entire episode breaking down the tackle Cody made on the Texans' first defensive play of the season against Miami.
Cody hasn't necessarily shown favoritism to his defensive teammates on his show. He also has "pumped iron" with Schaub and had the quarterback take part in a rookie hazing spoof this season along with Watt, linebacker Bradie James and running back Arian Foster. And the team's signal-caller applauds Cody's value in the locker room.
"He's probably the funniest guy on the team," Schaub said. "The humor and levity he brings to the locker room, because it's such a long season and offseason, you've got to have players and personalities like that who will keep everyone loose. That's what Shaun does."
Cody's show is often replayed on NFL Network throughout their day's programming, always drawing a chuckle from the network's anchors and commentators. And even though you can't spell 'comedy' without the letters 'c-o-d-y', what the former University of Southern California Trojan does on the field is what makes the fun off the field a possibility.
"He makes us better when he's there," Kubiak said Monday.
That's a nice compliment to a guy who calls himself a "grinder."