Texans-Cowboys: A rivalry renewed


Steve McKinney grew up in Centerville, about halfway between Dallas and Houston along Interstate 45. Still, it was not difficult for the McKinney family to choose a pro football team to support.

"We could have gone either way, but we were Oilers fans," McKinney said.

That allegiance didn't change after the Oilers left and the Texans arrived. McKinney was a member of the original Texans team that beat the Cowboys in their first regular-season game in 2002. Since retiring from the NFL, the former offensive lineman has become a Texans' Ambassador, part of a group of former NFL players who make community appearances for the Texans.

So when the Cowboys and Texans renew their young rivalry tonight, you know the colors McKinney will be wearing.

"You don't build up hate by losing games, you build up hatred by winning a lot of games," McKinney said of the Cowboys. "It fuels the fire. People want to beat you more."

It's not so much the Cowboys players that get under McKinney's skin.

"It's not necessarily that you hate the Cowboys as much as you hate the Cowboys fans," McKinney said. "You hate the fans and their attitude that we're better than you. You grow up with that rivalry where you root for one or the other."

Texans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews didn't wait until he joined the Texans to convert to being a Cowboys enemy. He was a big Cowboys fan growing up in California and attending Southern California.

Still, he converted long ago when he was a first-round draft pick of the Oilers and continued his Hall of Fame career with the Tennessee Titans.

"Granted, they've earned it," Matthews said. "They've won a lot of Super Bowls but man, even preseason, we'd (Oilers) be training in San Antonio and they'd come in for a scrimmage and everybody would be cheering for them. Then again, they won the big ones and we never did. So…"

Matthews has experienced the frenzy of devoted fans. He says Houston has something to look forward to as the Texans build their reputation.

"Fans recognize that this Texans thing is cool and what we've got going in the stadium," Matthews said. "But wait until we get in the playoffs and get this thing rolling, you'll really see what a motivated fan base is all about. This is good, but wait 'til the really good stuff happens."

Cornerback Aaron Glenn is another Texans original, but he can be forgiven for riding the fence. His wife is from Dallas and Glenn played for both the Texans and Cowboys. Still, he returned to his hometown to sign a one-day contract this offseason so that he could retire a Texan.

"I'm a Houston native, and that expresses my feelings right there," Glenn said. "I'll always cheer for the Texans to win. I'll never say anything bad about the Cowboys. They are a class organization."

Second-year tight end James Casey grew up in Azle, near Fort Worth, automatically making him a Cowboys fan growing up. Now, he's trying to convert his family to the Texans camp.

"We're still sort of a new franchise and we want to get all that backing from Houston," Casey said. "It's only the third preseason game, but we want to show everybody we're ready to play. You don't want to circle a game, but I'm definitely looking forward to that game. I have a lot of friends and family who are excited."

Azle remains Cowboy country.

"I'm trying to convert them one at a time," Casey said. "Even my family members, it's hard to convert some of them to Texans fans. They've been around a while and they've had some success, so we're behind the 8-ball with that. We started in 2002, but we're on a good track to really get some backing behind us.

"I've got a cousin, he has a Cowboys koozie, and that drives me nuts. I see really good friends that have a Cowboys ice chest. I give them little jabs for that stuff and tell them to get all that Cowboys stuff out of the house and change to the Texans."

The Barber family could have a problem, but they won't. Safety Dominique plays for the Texans. His brother Marion plays for the Cowboys. Still, there are no conflicts.

"Every once in a while we'll talk about football, but our relationship is different," Dominique said about his brother. "We are really close. When we get out here and put the pads on, we're checking each other out and things of that nature. He gives me a lot of knowledge. I wouldn't be here without him."

The Barber brothers played on opposite sidelines two years ago when the Cowboys and Texans met, but they never collided on the field.

"I wasn't able to go against him two years ago," Dominique said. "Maybe I'll get the chance this year, so I'll just have to get my pads set because I know that every down he brings the wood."

And how will mom and dad react?

"Both my parents will be at the game," Dominique said. "It's exciting. They go both ways. If the Cowboys win, they win. It's going to be a fun experience to do it again."

It was difficult for Texans kicker Kris Brown not to be a Cowboys fan growing up at Southlake Carroll in the Dallas area in the early '90s.

"You have no choice," Brown said. "I think my allegiance was lost once I came to the NFL. I got drafted by Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh and Dallas was such a bitter rivalry. That's when it went away."

Like Casey, Brown must deal with Dallas fans at home.

"I still have family there and it's kind of a running joke because they're still Cowboys fans--when they're not playing us," Brown said. "At least they're telling me I don't have to convert them. I hope they are converted Texans fans. You never know."

Rivalry talk is good up to game time for Brown.

"It's built up by fans and media, but once the whistle blows and we're playing the game, players don't think about that," Brown said. "If you're thinking about things outside the lines, you aren't doing what you need to do to win the game."

The Texans' trophy case is very modest compared to the Cowboys. Still, the Cowboys contributed to one of the Texans' most memorable moments, that 19-10 victory in their first game ever in 2002. It marked the second time in NFL history that an expansion team had won its first game. Minnesota did it first in 1961.

"I played in so many games, but it's always the first game I tell people about," McKinney said. "It was the first game of the year for the Texans, Sunday night. It was so loud. I'll never forget running onto the field the fans were so loud and electric. The hair on the back of your neck stood up. You could feel the sound vibrations it was so loud. I've been in a lot of stadiums, but nothing like that."

Preseason or not, the Texans hope to add to those memories tonight.

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.

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