Week Five of the NFL regular season took me back to Houston, Texas to makeup for the game I missed because of the Hurricane Ike postponement earlier in the year. The Indianapolis Colts were in town for what would be the NRG Stadium home opener and I was pretty excited by the prospect of some good old fashioned Texas barbecue. Houston Texan fans certainly did not disappoint as I quickly found out that Houston is a Mecca for the barbecue and tailgating enthusiast. Walking through the parking lot, I noticed that everyone brought in custom grills and smokers with which to prepare their gameday meal. These guys had brats, ribs, chicken, steaks, pulled pork, and beef tips at the ready ... a couple of folks were even actually slow roasting full pigs. It was truly incredible. Homemade marinades and dry rubs littered the countertops of this makeshift culinary concourse. It was evident that Houston Texans fans put a lot of time and effort into their barbecue tailgates; you just did not see guys with hibachi's and a couple of hot dogs out there. These fans meticulously created an atmosphere averse to the vegan lifestyle and it was beautiful thing. I'd been to several stadiums where most folks had full sized grills that were bought from the store, but in Houston grilling and smoking meats is an art form. An art form that's practiced on massive custom grills that are trailered into the parking lot by most of the fans on gameday, resulting in a sampling of the finest prepared meats that the great State of Texas has to offer.
The Parking lot around NRG Stadium opens four hours prior to gametime. For the first hour, parking is on a first come first serve basis, but after that, NRG Stadium attendants direct traffic within the lot and position cars to fill it. In order to get a parking space near the action, it's best to purchase a parking pass in advance through an online broker and arrive early, because many of the lots are accessible by parking pass only. I had prearranged to tailgate with a group of Texans fans that call themselves Al's Koholics Tailgaters. These guys kicked off the day with Apple Martini's and breakfast taco's at eight in the morning, followed appropriately by all manner of chicken, beef and pork known to man. They served up smoked rib tips, barbecued chicken, and pulled pork sandwiches for most of the day. So we ate like kings right up to gametime.
NRG Stadium itself is a masterpiece. Built in 2000, it features a natural grass field and retractable roof to serve the needs of the players as well as the fans. Grass is definitively the preferred gameday surface by players and the use of the retractable roof helps keep the environment comfortable for fans on gameday. The grass field itself is actually assembled each Sunday by bringing in eight foot by eight foot pallets of grass that fit together like a massive puzzle. After the stadium clears out it's disassembled again and returned to an outdoor area for sunlight, water, and turf maintenance. The concessions within the stadium are excellent and the seats themselves impressive. Much like many of the modern stadiums, the seating arrangement is a steep sided bowl that allows everyone to have a great view of the action down on the field. NRG Stadium is easily one of the premiere facilities in the league to watch an NFL football game.
I bought my seats through TicketCity.com for the Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans home opener - great seats by the way. And after getting my fill of some of the finest blacktop cuisine in the NFL and lots of cold liquid refreshment to wash it down with, I proceeded to the stadium. After a conservative first half of football, the Houston Texans led the Colts by a score of 17 - 10 on touchdowns by Steve Slaton and Andre Johnson, and a Kris Brown field goal. In the second half, the Texans extended their lead with another Kris Brown field goal and a second Steve Slaton touchdown putting the Texans up 27 -10 . Then with four minutes remaining, the improbable happened. The Texans leading by seventeen points and presumably with the game in hand, made mistakes on both sides of the ball to allow the Colts to get right back into the game. Peyton Manning led the Indianapolis Colts back from the brink of defeat with two touchdown passes sandwiching a Colts defensive touchdown and resulting in 21 points in two minutes to cement a Colts win. What an embarrassing loss... but a great NFL venue for the consummate tailgating professional. For more information on my Houston, Texas adventure, be sure to check out www.nflfootballstadiums.com/Reliant.htm.