The Houston Texans are 10-1. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is playing like his legs have been replaced by rockets and his hands by fishing nets. Running back Arian Foster leads the league in rushing touchdowns, has the second-most yards, and appears to be made of adamantium. J.J. Watt is trailblazing a new way for defensive ends to impact games — he’s batted down 13 passes and is basically the football equivalent of a surface-to-air missile. The Texans are fun and dangerous in a way that very few football teams are this year, and they’re the rare squad that scores (second-most points of any team) as well as they defend (fifth-fewest).
But when you think of the NFL’s marquee franchises, Houston still lurks in the background, obscured by teams like the Patriots, the Giants, the Packers, and the 49ers. Part of this has to do with the fact that we’re still not used to a good Texans squad being part of the NFL landscape; before last year, Houston had only had one winning season in nine years, dating back to their start as a franchise. Hell, we’re still not used to the Texans being a part of the NFL landscape at all, considering that this is only their 11th season. Houston’s anonymity can’t solely be blamed on circumstance, though. There’s one other big factor: their quarterback is bald.
Well, balding. (If he were totally bald, he might be cool in a biker-gang kind of way — right now he looks like a bank manager.) His name is Matt Schaub. In a sport with 52 players on every team, one of whom touches the ball way more than the others, the quarterback makes for an easy way to slap a squad with an identity, a cliff-notes idea of how good that team is and what they’re about. Mark Sanchez is impotent and runs into people’s butts, the Jets are impotent and can’t keep their heads out of their/others’ butts. Jay Cutler is tough but boneheaded, the Bears are tough but boneheaded. Aaron Rodgers is a fighter jet, the Packers are a fighter jet.
Unfortunately for the Texans, this means that the average-humanness of Matt Schaub has given them the tint of anonymity. He’s a good-to-very-good player, but if I ask you to tell me something about Matt Schaub, you’ll probably come up with some boring anecdote about fantasy football. His most prominent moment in the league so far was an anti-moment; he was injured during the playoffs last year, costing him exposure that might have helped raise his profile in the Texans’ first-ever playoff appearance.
Schaub is actually made for the stage in a kind of character-actor way. His eyes are sunken into his skull, and his forehead is huge. He looks sort of marsupial. Balding, marsupial — not words that Americans have typically used to describe their star quarterbacks. Can this change? Sure. But the only way for it to change is for the Texans to win big — i.e. at least make it to the Super Bowl. “Goofy” wasn’t a word used to describe star QBs until Eli Manning made it so by bringing the Lombardi trophy to the Meadowlands twice. If the Texans keep winning, maybe Schaub’s lack of hair will start becoming a signifier of his reliability and rugged Everyman spirit. You could see him in a commercial, tossing a sack of concrete into the back of a pickup truck. For Matt Schaub, it’s not quittin’ time til’ the job is done. That kind of thing. For now, though, a receding hairline is just a receding hairline, and the Texans will have to just keep humming along in their place one step outside the spotlight.