Culture / Sporting Life

DeAndre Hopkins’ Public Colin Kaepernick Love and J.J. Watt’s Earl Campbell Jersey Both Show the Texans’ Good Guy Character

Houston is Suddenly the AFC’s Most Dangerous and Interesting Team

BY // 12.03.18

DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt both wore very interesting jerseys on Sunday — and both picks showed the good guy character of the AFC’s most secretly dangerous team. Hopkins strolled into NRG Stadium in a customized black jersey imprinted with the hashtag #IMWITHKAP, paying homage to modern civil rights crusader Colin Kaepernick. Watt went with a classic Houston Oilers baby blue Earl Campbell jersey.

Two strong leaders of a 9-3 team that’s now very much a contender for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Two very different men. Two very different messages. And one unified football team that keeps showing up, ready to work.

These Texans were never as vanilla as they often have been made out to be. There are plenty of interesting characters buried amongst all the Bill O’Brien speak.

And now even Al Michaels is talking about them on Sunday Night Football, calling Houston “the hottest team in the NFL” even as the Steelers and Chargers trade wild touchdowns.

“Especially with the way we started last week, kind of dragging our feet a little bit,” Texans rookie safety Justin Reid says of the 10-0 deficit just six days ago, “we wanted to come out and make a statement.”

Consider it made. The Texans jump out to a 23-0 lead, leave the Cleveland Browns and their bloviating rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield shellshocked at just how far they still have to go. The day ends in an emphatic 29-13 victory, with plenty of glimpses at just how interesting these Texans can become.

On a day when the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense is exposed again, this time by the hapless Oakland Raiders of all foes, it’s no longer a stretch to declare these Texans the most complete team in the AFC.

“If it’s an ugly win, I’ll take it,” says cornerback Johnathan Jospeh, the wise old man of these Texans. “If it’s a pretty win, I’ll take it. In this league all you do is try to win, win, win, win, win. It always gets talked about how you win sometimes.”

Don’t look now, but these Texans have won two games in six days by a combined 63-30 margin. They’re getting pretty. And interesting.

Take the pregame jerseys. “That’s my homie,” Hopkins says of his choice to stand up for Colin Kaepernick, the man who kneeled for the National Anthem — and made so many lose their minds. “That’s why I wore that shirt.”

For Watt, it’s even simpler. It usually is.

“He’s the man,” Watt says of going with Campbell’s No. 34. “Why not?”

Justin Reid Stands Strong

These Texans are full of fascinating figures if you just look hard enough. There is Reid, playing whirling dervish, terrorizing the Browns all over the field. The Stanford product forces a fumble to save one touchdown, dislodges another otherwise certain catch and seems to be hitting every receiver who comes near the football, putting his mark all over the game.

The Browns will be having nightmares about this smiling, friendly fellow. This is a third round draft pick?

That is where Justin Reid fell in the NFL’s annual talent grab, and you can be sure Reid hasn’t forgotten.

“I play a lot off my emotions — and it’s a chip on my shoulder,” he says. “But I don’t think about it that much anymore.”

There are too many other fun things going on right now. Like Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham getting a Pick-6 touchdown against Baker Mayfield on his birthday.

“Man, that’s incredible,” Reid says of Cunningham’s leap to pluck Mayfield’s pass out of the air. “But on his birthday! What a way to celebrate a birthday with a Pick-6. You can’t write that. You can’t make that stuff up.”

That so many of Cunningham’s teammates are so excited about his storybook 24th birthday moment (Whitney Mercilus also gushes over it) says plenty about these Texans.

So do the jerseys choices of their two different stars.

This is a team of good guys who respect each other’s choices — and root for each other. This is a team with a conscience. It also just may be the most quietly interesting team in the NFL.

“Give a lot of credit to our players,” O’Brien says. “It’s been a great team to coach. They really try to do what we ask them to do — and they’re a bunch of awesome guys. It’s been really fun to coach them.”

On a weekend when the team with the best record in the AFC deals with cutting a star player who hit a woman (Kareem Hunt), the Texans deal with birthday fun and smart pregame jersey choices. It’s quite a contrast.

You’d rather hang out with the good guys.

Of course, if building a team of outstanding citizens guaranteed championships, Bob McNair would have a few Super Bowl wins. But these Texans seem to have a good guy edge too.

They’re quietly keeping track of all the doubts — and all the times they’ve been dismissed. They are obeying O’Brien’s mantra of not eating “the cheese.”

“You can’t take the cheese,” O’Brien says. “You can’t. In this league, if you start taking the cheese on nine in a row, which is fantastic… I mean, you’re going to be in a world of hurt if you start taking the cheese. Because it’s a very humbling league.”

That’s a near Bill Parcells worthy coaching diatribe on not getting fat on success. This Texans coach always has been more interesting than he often lets on as well.

These Texans are suddenly the AFC’s most dangerous — and compelling — team. You can see it in their jersey choices. You can see it in their birthday parties. You can see it on the scoreboard. You can see it in the locker room.

There hasn’t been a Houston Texans team quite like this before.

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