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Texans break franchise seal today against Giants
CANTON, Ohio -- The most important player on the NFL's newest team already understands his place in the superstructure. That's why David Carr, the quarterback of the Houston Texans and the top draft pick, carries equipment bags and fetches cold drinks for the veterans.
He knows fame wasn't automatically thrust upon him in April when the expansion Texans made him their cornerstone. The team simply gave him a job and expects him to work hard at it.
"I want to earn what I get here, so I try and work just as hard as everyone," Carr said. "Although I'm getting more attention than many of the other players, I still have to earn the respect of the other rookies. The veteran guys here like (Pro Bowl offensive guard) Tony Boselli deserve the respect because of the type of players they are. You have to live up to their expectations before you can get into a leadership role yourself."
Seven years ago, a quarterback named Kerry Collins was placed in a similar situation in Carolina, the rookie quarterback of an expansion team coached by Dom Capers. Collins knows he was not prepared psychologically for the responsibility.
"David may take to it better than I did," Collins said. "I wasn't really the best ambassador the Panthers could have had for their franchise" in 1995. "I wasn't always willing to be as cooperative as someone in that situation should be. I shunned that role a little. I don't know David or what he expects of it. But I never felt comfortable with it. I could sit there and tell him things, but until you go through it yourself, it's the only way to learn. But I can tell you that the excitement of being associated with an expansion team goes away quickly when we started losing."
Partly because of Carr, who will lead his team into Reliant Stadium, the NFL's first facility with a retractable roof, those days are a long way away in Houston. Almost five years since the Oilers moved and started playing in Tennessee in 1997, nearly three years after the NFL granted Houston another franchise at a cost of about $700 million, the Texans are ready.
"I'd enjoy" coaching an expansion team, Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "I often thought it would be a hell of a job to have. You're starting out like Capers did as the head coach and you don't have any games to play the first year. You have a job, but you're essentially redshirting. There's no salary cap. You get up on Sunday and watch someone else sweat and worry. It would be exciting to start out with a team that has no history or tradition, with nothing back from last year to build on. It's all new. No one's worn these helmets or uniforms before. There's a foundation to lay there."
With a roster swelling with young veterans, the Texans begin what they hope will be a short trip to the top of the league tonight when they play the Giants in the Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium.
"I've been coach of the year twice (in Carolina) and I've been the head coach of a Pro Bowl team," said Capers, now the Texans coach. "But you have a sense of not being fulfilled until you go and win the Super Bowl. Obviously, from the first day here, that's been the goal. Everything you do must be geared to that."
The Texans asked the NFL to arrange a meeting with either the Giants or Packers for the exhibition opener because they wanted an immediate connection to the league's past. It was the Giants' legacy which Texans general manager Charley Casserly invoked during one of his first meetings with owner Robert McNair.
"We're already 75 years behind the New York Giants," Casserly told McNair when he was hired in January 2000.
Led by Casserly, the former office intern who became GM of the Redskins in 1990, the foundation has been laid through the educated use of the $71 million salary cap. The Texans used two years to study the mistakes made by the Panthers (1995) and Browns (1999) during their expansion seasons.
One of the major changes was the way they scouted Carr, the All-American from Fresno State. After offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, the first Browns coach, convinced Capers of Carr's ability, Capers made a point to get to know Carr. That was something he didn't do in Carolina with Collins, who didn't become the starter until the fourth week of the 1995 season. Collins led the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game in 1996, but his erratic behavior led to his release in 1998.
"David is exactly the type of player the NFL needs now," Palmer said.
After successfully lobbying the NFL to make more affordable talent available in the expansion draft -- a luxury the Browns didn't have -- the Texans decided to draft only players younger than 30. After signing 35 players before the expansion draft, they spent $37.5 million on their first eight picks: Boselli, Jets cornerback Aaron Glenn, Jacksonville defensive lineman Gary Walker, Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper, Ravens return specialist Jermaine Lewis, Jets cornerback Marcus Coleman, Jacksonville defensive tackle Seth Payne and Jets offensive lineman Ryan Young.
The Texans have 18 players who started last year, eight of whom started all 16 games. They have Pro Bowl players (Boselli, Glenn, Lewis, Walker) and five players (safeties Hakim Akbar and Matt Stevens, tight end Rod Rutledge, Lewis and Sharper) with Super Bowl rings.
"That's not your normal expansion team," Fassel said.
So while Casserly admires his work from the sideline, Collins will keep an eye on Carr, because if there's one player in the NFL who understands how fickle fortune can be, it's one who was once burned by it.
"It's different from what you might have thought an expansion team to be 20 years ago," Collins said. "Now you can put a team together faster, so the pressure to win is greater. There will be a higher level of expectation."