Wednesday was spent in airports as I made my way southeast from Seattle to Houston. What a complete 180 weather wise. Seattle was cool and Houston was hot and humid. Humidity is not your friend, ever. It ruins your hair, makeup, and your clothes, because you sweat through them. I spent Thursday afternoon exploring the nature scene by my friend’s apartment. It was hard to believe the parks I walked through had been completely submerged in water earlier that year. Houston is still relatively new to me, as I only spent one day visiting in 2012 during my ballpark tour and my current trip. The city is HUGE (that’s what she said). It’s the fourth largest city in the country and word on the street was the traffic is horrible. My friend Nick warned me that short distances could take hours to cover.

With traffic in mind, I left for NRG Stadium early and opted to take their MetroRail thinking it would be out of the rush hour traffic. I took a local bus to the Fine Arts Museum station and found that the rail shared the streets with the cars. It took about 35 minutes to get to the Reliant Station where the stadium was located. As soon as you walk off the train, you’re in tailgate country. Texans fans brought out the big grills and BBQ with all the style and flair one would expect.  I recommend you leave your dinky travel grills at home, you’ll feel inadequate here. On a more personal note, I was pleased by the amount of cowboy hats and boots I saw, God Bless you Texas.

NRG Stadium is a massive structure than manages to dwarf its neighbor, the Astrodome. Not gonna lie, I geeked out a little seeing the dome. Wish I could’ve stopped inside to look around, but obviously it’s closed. I walked down the Bull-evard and entered into the stadium’s south end zone outdoor concourse. The block and concourse were lined with food trucks, football themed games, live music, local radio stations. Despite it being a work night, the area and lots were filling up with fans fast. With the traffic I thought this crowd might be a later arriving crew, but they were out in full force.

The ramps to enter into the stadium are outside on either side. I began my ascent to the main concourse where I was greeted by a cold blast of air conditioning. Holy climate control Houston! I’m glad I wore jeans and a long sleeved shirt. It felt about 20 degrees cooler in the stadium and I suppose it’s necessary to crank up the air with all the people. I hoped near game time I’d be warmer once all the bodies were in their seats. The lower concourse is wide and almost one giant concession stand all the way around. There is no way you could wait in a long line with all the places to order. The food selection and build of this stadium was set up reminded me of Minute Maid Park so much so, I Googled both stadiums to see if they were built by the same company. I was very surprised they weren’t. Maybe variety isn’t as easy with roofed venues?

I walked down to the field to watch warm ups and was blown away how large this structure really is. The entire time I was in Houston, I couldn’t get over how everything seemed super sized. I decided to head up to the 500 level concourse to meet my game witness from the Texans, Karissa at the guest services desk. While I waited for her I took advantage of the free phone charging station that was next door. Karissa stopped by and we briefly talked about my tour and made our post game plans. Since we were meeting back at this level, I went back down to the 100 level to find a good place to stand for the first half. Though the lower bowl is lined with suites, there are a bunch of areas you can stand to watch the game. The only downside is you can’t see the scoreboards. I parked myself along the Colts sideline near midfield. The Texans cheerleaders came out and I was very impressed by the diversity of the group. It wasn’t a bunch of blondes and a token black girl. They had all the races covered and more variety in bodies. I think this reflects the Texans fan base, they were definitely the most diverse group of NFL fans I’d come across while traveling.

The team introductions were a little different as the announcer gets the crowd involved by just saying the players’ first name. The fans yell the last name out together. It’s a good quiz on who’s who, though you can always read the name off the giant video board. J.J. Watt was the last player announced and I would be lying if I said seeing him play wasn’t what I was most excited about. That excitement was short lived as the Texans defense didn’t live up to the hype. How can a defense that has Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Brian Cushing be so mediocre? I suppose that’s why they play 11 guys and not three. The fans weren’t impressed by anything the team did and were very vocal about their disappointment. For as much as I liked the diversity of this crowd, I didn’t care for their attitude. This was the first stadium I didn’t talk to anyone and it wasn’t for lack of trying. It was the only time I’ve ever been very aware I’m at the game by myself. Whatever, I ate a soft pretzel and cheered on Brian Hoyer. His Hail Mary at the end of the first half definitely pacified the hateful crowd for the time being.

During halftime I went out to the ramps to try and get a little cell phone reception and was amazed by the amount of people outside smoking. It was ironic to see people in pink jerseys puffing away. While I fiddled with my phone I noticed I could kinda see in the Astrodome and caught a glimpse of their upper bowl seats. That cheered me up a bit as I ventured back up to the 500 level concourse to watch the second half in my seat. Before going to my seat I wanted to grab a coffee or hot chocolate, but upon completion of a full loop, I found they didn’t sell any at this level. Makes sense, I doubt hot beverages are in high demand here. I had seen a small stand downstairs, but wasn’t about to walk all the way back down. I needed to acclimate! What I did find up here was a giant Crown Royal themed bar where large crowds were gathered watching the Astros game.  Being a loyal and true Beam girl, this bar made me cringe. I was happy to see the Stros were leading the Royals though, and went to my seat.

I liked the view of the field from my seat in section 621. It was high enough that despite being in the end zone, I had a sense of how many yards were gained on the plays. I don’t like it sit low in end zones because you lose this and the game becomes 2D. From up here I also noticed the unique lighting of this stadium. For having the roof closed, the lights were set up to illuminate the field and not the stands, giving it the effect of looking like an outdoor field. The Texans fans around me were more disgruntled than the fans below me and I kept to myself. Fellow Clevelander, Brian Hoyer was doing a much better job with the offense than Ryan Mallett and I was hoping he could lead the team to a win and shut them up. Though he got them close, a costly late interception proved the fans right and me wrong. As the final seconds of the game ticked down and the teams went to shake hands, the crowd that hadn’t left early loudly booed the team. Dang it’s rough in Houston. There were plenty of “hey we have the Astros,” to go around as I walked back to the guest services desk to wait on Karissa.

She was held up and a stadium employee tried to shoe me down and out of the stadium. Luckily one of the guest services reps, Angela had my back and took me in the booth to make sure I wouldn’t have to leave without getting my witness book signed. She was my hero. My witness log book was signed when Karissa came in and I was on my way back to the city as fast as I could walk down the stairs. Once out of the stadium I did meet some nice fans, so my faith was slightly restored in the fan base. I walked back through the lots to the train station and the tailgates were back at it as people waited out the traffic. The line for the train wasn’t bad and I ended up back in Houston an hour and a half later. Though I was impressed by the stadium and in game production of the Texans (I like their mascot Toro), the fan base soured this trip. I don’t think I’ll be in any hurry to come back, but I do think it’s worthy of a second chance.

Remember I am raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in Central Ohio. Please donate by clicking here.

Special thank you to Karissa for her time and assistance during my visit!

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