EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Oct. 21, 2012, for the Texans' game against the Baltimore Ravens at Reliant Stadium.
Kreig Smith's wife, Brenda, claims she never needs to get him another anniversary gift. When you surprise your husband with Texans season tickets that lead to a new best friend, countless memories and the prolonging of his life, you can make that sort of statement.
The Smiths were part of the Texans' original fan base, jumping on the bandwagon at the start of the franchise in 2002. The inaugural game against the Dallas Cowboys was a perfect start for the Texans, as well as a new friendship for Smith.
"That first touchdown, we didn't know anybody around us, and this guy in front of me was looking for somebody to high-five," Smith said. "We high-fived and spontaneously kind of hugged. One thing led to another and we started talking."
Over the first season, Smith and the man he high-fived, Carsten Weber, would lament, cheer and yell together during Texans games. Eventually, Carsten's wife at the time, Tayma, switched seats with Smith so he and Carsten could break down the game and argue about all things football. The Webers also relocated to the Blue Lot so that both parties could tailgate together. Tayma, a family practice MD, even became the Smiths' doctor.
"We started socializing outside of football," Smith said. "We watched their two children come into the world and grow, and eventually Carsten and I became best friends, just because of the Texans."
Seven years after that fateful meeting, Smith was diagnosed with skin cancer and also was having issues with what he thought to be a cyst on his jawline. He made an appointment to see Tayma on a Friday, and when she walked in and saw the large growth on the bottom of Smith's face, her smile immediately dropped.
"I knew from the look on her face that this was serious," Smith said. "Remind me to play poker with her sometime."
Tayma got Smith in a CT scan within an hour, made a radiologist read the results that evening and drove to Smith's house at 9 p.m. to inform him he had one of four types of cancer. She also made an appointment for Smith at MD Anderson in Rosenberg for Monday morning. There, a neck biopsy confirmed that Smith had stage IV throat cancer. He received his first chemotherapy treatment less than 17 days from diagnosis, a timeline unheard of in cancer treatment, when it often takes a two-week wait just to get in the door.
"The tumor grew from the size of a pea to a golf ball in two weeks, so it's not an exaggeration to say that her quick work and getting me in the trap door saved my life," Smith said.
Head and neck radiation was the most severely painful challenge Smith had ever endured. He was under heavy medication, was forced to use a feeding tube, couldn't eat for four months and lost 17 pounds in the first week. During the trying time, Carsten stepped up to the plate as a best friend and caretaker.
"He would babysit me because I couldn't be left alone," Smith said. "He would lie with me in bed watching the game, waiting on me hand and foot and taking my anger with a smile and a nod, knowing that my anger was from the pain and not him."
In December of 2009, after undergoing six months of radiation treatment, Smith was itching to get back to Reliant Stadium to cheer on his Texans. Carsten surprised him with 'Welcome Back' balloons as he tailgated, feeding tube still attached.
"I remember we won the last game of the year, defeating the Patriots for our first winning season," Smith said. "We both had tears in our eyes when we realized that we had pulled through this together, the Texans had a winning record and that the future looked brighter."
Three years later, Smith is a picture of perfect health. He credits his miraculous recovery to Tayma's proactive help, his wife's love and care, Carsten's commitment to their friendship, and, of course, the Houston Texans.
"If I had never met (Carsten and Tayma), if I had never been in that seat with the Texans, who knows what two weeks of waiting to get a doctor's appointment would have done to me," Smith said.
Smith is ecstatic about the Texans' 5-1 start this season, boasting that the organization is building the team the right way on both sides of the ball. But his love for the team goes far beyond football.
"I expect the team to go far this season," Smith said. "But what no one expected was that the Houston Texans were responsible for two fans to become best friends, and even more, that the Houston Texans led to saving my life."