Today is my last day with the Houston Texans. It's been a great ride.
I arrived as an intern out of college in 2007. It was three days after my final summer-school class at the University of Southern California. I thought I would be here for six months. I ended up staying for six years.
I didn't know much about the Texans in 2007. I grew up in Washington State, Hawaii and Mississippi, and the Texans were five years old and had never posted a winning record. I knew them best as the quasi-expansion team that passed on possibly the best player my alma mater had ever produced, Reggie Bush, with the top pick of the 2006 NFL Draft in favor of Mario Williams.
I had zero journalism experience in 2007. I was a double-major in Creative Writing and International Relations who happened to work in the USC football office. When I applied for my Texans internship, my eventual boss asked me to send a writing sample; I sent him two five-page fiction stories I had written for an English class.
My first article on HoustonTexans.com was on a wide receiver named Bethel Johnson. I remember transcribing the audio on my computer with the help of Windows Media Player. I remember writing a cheesy lead about Kansas and Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz" – it still makes me cringe to read it today. My last article besides this one was on Bun B talking about Arian Foster's rap skills. I came a long way.
When I first started, I had to study the Texans' roster over and over because I didn't know who any of the players were. I was most familiar with Ahman Green, who had just signed a big free agent deal. I knew a little bit about Andre Johnson and Williams, and the new quarterback from Atlanta, Matt Schaub. That was pretty much it. Now, the Texans have a roster with 13 Pro Bowlers, and I'm fortunate enough to know just about everybody in the locker room.
I can't say enough good things about the organization. It's full of good people from top to bottom. That's one of the hardest things about leaving – that, and the fact that I'm positive this team will win the Super Bowl now that I'm gone.
If the Texans do win the Lombardi Trophy anytime soon, three of the people I'll be most happy for are Bob McNair, Gary Kubiak and Johnson – all class acts all the way.
McNair is one of the best people I've met, period. One of my lasting memories of him is from when I was an intern and at his company Christmas party. I hadn't spoken with him in at least three months and figured I would need to re-introduce myself as I approached him, as I had with most of the higher-ups that evening. Instead, he shook my hand, immediately told his wife Janice my name without so much as glancing at my nametag and asked me how my family was doing in Mississippi. I was blown away. Another enduring memory is the time he cut a $100 million check to Baylor College of Medicine for breast cancer research in September 2007. He wants the Texans to be the most community-connected sports franchise in the world. He encourages employees to give to charities like the United Way, and he matches everything that we give. He also hires good people, lets them do their job and gives them the resources to do it. That's what you want in your team's owner, as far as I'm concerned.
Kubiak is as likeable a guy as I could imagine for an NFL head coach. First of all, he's a big-time family man. Has a great wife, Rhonda, and three sons who he's very close with and has brought around the facility at varying times through the years. He's Houston through and through – from the Heights, drives a Ford truck, walks around the office singing country music during the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. He cares about people and holds them to high standards but treats them with respect. There's a reason you often hear that Texans players would run through a wall for him. I bet the whole coaching staff and most of the organization would, too.
Johnson, to me, is the epitome of what this team is all about. It's a locker room full of good guys, and he leads the way as a quiet, team-first superstar with an insatiable work ethic. He has been here since 2003, one year after the franchise started. I think that's part of why Houston fans love him so much – he struggled just like they struggled. When I first got here, there were constant nervous rumblings among fans and media that he might demand to be traded, that he *should *demand to be traded, if the Texans didn't improve fast. But he never did, and now he's part of a team that has won 22 games and two division titles in the last two seasons. Johnson, like a lot of his teammates, is also active in the community. He hosts a free football camp for 400 disadvantaged kids every spring. He adopted an elementary school and rewards good classroom work with autographed gear and pizza parties. He gives turkeys to the hungry on Thanksgiving. He has an annual 80-second Toys 'R Us Christmas shopping spree for kids from Child Protective Services that is easily one of the coolest charitable events I've ever heard of. He has invested a lot in this city, and he wants to win a championship for it more than anything. I think he will.
My favorite moment from the last six years? "On the Nose" with Shaun Cody and Connor Barwin was awesome. And there was that one time I accidentally photobombed Kevin Walter getting doused with ice water on his birthday. But it was without a doubt when the Texans clinched the first playoff berth in team history in 2011. At Cincinnati, Dec. 11, third-string rookie quarterback T.J. Yates leading a last-second comeback for the AFC South title. Hearing the celebration in the visiting locker room as I waited with media for Kubiak's postgame press conference, being on the team plane back to Houston, experiencing the euphoric impromptu pep rally with thousands of fans in Bud Plaza after the Texans returned to Reliant Stadium – unforgettable. I worked in sports for moments like that.
I have met so many good people in my time here that I couldn't possibly name them all. Bob and Cal McNair, Jamey Rootes and Rick Smith set the tone for the entire organization. A few who have been particularly impactful to me: Philip Burguieres, a valued mentor; John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, who tutored me as a writer early on in my career; my old boss, Nick Schenck, and my new boss for the last couple months, Marc Vandermeer; Tony Wyllie and John Vidalin; Drew Dougherty, a selfless colleague and friend; Brooke Bentley, who was Drew before Drew; Wade Phillips; Khalil Reed, a glue guy in the organization who started as an intern with me in 2007; and Kara Cook, an intern last year who did such a good job that we had no choice but to hire her full-time. There are probably 200 others I'd like to thank, including Texans cafeteria staff like Tom, Denise and Ysidro and front-desk receptionists like Ms. Wahnetta Mitchell and Ms. Elaine Johnson, some of my favorite people in the building.
I'm leaving now to start a new career with On the Mark Communications, a boutique PR firm in Houston. I'll still be tweeting about the Texans in my free time; I've been around the team too long not to follow it closely. I look forward to going to games for the first time as a fan, not in a suit in the press box, and seeing what the famous tailgating and game experience are all about. I hope to see some of you in the parking lots, in the stadium and all around Houston.
To the best fans in the NFL: You're far and away one of the aspects of this job I will miss the most. It has been my privilege to interact with you over the years. I've gotten a lot of farewell messages on Twitter in the last few days, and I want you to know that I have seen and appreciate every single one of them.
To my friends in the media, coaches, players, Texans front office staff, the entire organization, the fans and anyone else I might have missed: Thanks. I've got enough memories to last a lifetime. And I'm proud to be a Texan.