This is about the team that blew a 24-0 lead in a playoff game returning to the football home of Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Bill O’Brien, wearing a mask during a recent scrimmage, and the Texans kick off a unique season on Thursday in Kansas City that will be about more than football.
This is round three between Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ 24-year-old franchise quarterback, and Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs’ 24-year-old franchise QB, during the same year they received life-changing contract extensions totaling an absurd $659 million.
And this is the all-powerful, all-consuming NFL back on your TV screen during a season when seventh-year head coach Bill O’Brien will officially double as the Texans’ general manager, Tom Brady is a proud member of the remade (again) Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Bill Belichick enters Week 1 publicly praising new New England QB Cam Newton.
But this is 2020. In the United States of America. During a coronavirus pandemic that has already lasted six months too long. Two months before the next presidential election.
You read the paper. You watch the news. You keep flipping through your phone for good news, when bad news constantly rules the minute-by-minute moment.
Texans-Chiefs on Thursday night on national television?
It’s about much more than just another professional football game that fans and the media will instantly overreact to, then forget by the time that Week 17 rolls around — if Week 17 rolls around.
The NBA season was abruptly paused March 11 and our sports world was forever changed. Almost six months to the exact date, the NFL will attempt an experiment that increasingly felt impossible from April through July.
Incredibly athletic human beings are going to try to knock the heck out of each other. Spit will fly, blood will spill, heads will collide. Bodies and faces will be strategically placed against each other, instead of the now-standard 6 feet away. And after watching MLB, MMA, the NBA, the WNBA, the PGA, NASCAR, college football, etc., pave the new and sometimes weird way forward, the NFL will try to stay as healthy and safe as humanly possible, game by game, week by week and month by month.
America will be watching. The world will be watching, studying and critiquing. As excited as you’re going to get if Watson beats Mahomes this time at Arrowhead Stadium, the real victory in 2020 will be if the NFL can complete its absolutely unprecedented season and America can move one step closer to what the country was like before this pandemic arrived.
It’s just sports. It’s only football.
It’s an experimental trial conducted in real time, with coaches, players, GMs, owners, families and friends attempting to do something normal during a time when abnormal still reigns.
It’s the Texans trying to eventually reach the AFC championship game for the first time, during a year when partially opened small businesses, still-closed bars, masks at the grocery store, family bike rides and virtual learning are all the rage.
How do you balance it all?
How will O’Brien maneuver his Texans through all this, while keeping everything in the proper perspective?
“It’s (a question) we’ve thought about a lot,” O’Brien said this week. “At the end of the day, it’s still a league about winning. It’s all about winning. It’s early in the season. It’s the first game of an unprecedented year. Even guys like Romeo Crennel, who have been in the league forever, they will tell you they’ve never seen anything like this where you had no preseason games, no offseason program.
“There’s a lot of unknowns in the first game in a normal year and there’s definitely unknowns obviously in this year. Our guys are excited about it. … We know we’re going into a tough environment, a weird environment, really, because of no fans or not as many fans, the whole thing. It’s going to be interesting. But our guys, they’re excited about the opportunity.”
Opportunity: That’s a refreshing word at this chaotic time in our country’s history.
The Chiefs will fill your TV because they won Super Bowl LIV and feature the sport’s most magnetic young star.
This is currently the only scheduled national prime-time game for the franchise that traded away DeAndre Hopkins after blowing a 24-0 lead in a playoff game. But it’s easy to argue, even before the TV ratings are emailed out, that this will be the biggest and most meaningful game in Texans history, and they will connect with an audience that previously always overlooked them.
There’s also a decent chance that Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Mike Pence, Kamala Harris and Anthony Fauci all tune in to watch Watson versus Mahomes at some point. Or at least see an in-game breaking news update pop up on their phones.
Friday morning there will truly be something to talk about. The same conversation will carry us through the weekend, then could guide us into the newness that 2021 might represent.
The Texans are back.
The NFL is back.
Watson and Mahomes are set to face each other again inside a huge stadium featuring screaming fans.
The first game of Week 1 can often be an aberration. In the chaos that is 2020, Texans-Chiefs could be one more thing that America needs: a good NFL game.