- Associated Press - Saturday, September 25, 2010

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - Clad in a white Tony Romo jersey, Melissa Tellez was posing for a picture on the steps of the Texas Capitol when she was asked which NFL team is No. 1 in the Lone Star State.

She rolled her eyes and didn’t answer. Instead, she illuminated her cell phone to display the screensaver with images of players for the Dallas Cowboys.

Deep in the heart of Texas, and pretty much everywhere else in the state, the Cowboys are king and the Houston Texans aren’t much more than an afterthought outside the city where they play.

Never mind that the Texans are 2-0 and the Cowboys are 0-2 heading into Sunday’s matchup in Houston. This nine-year-old expansion team can’t compete with the popularity the Cowboys have gained in an illustrious 50-year history filled with larger-than-life figures who are ingrained in the fabric of the state.

Texans owner Bob McNair understands that and knows the best way to change things is by winning, something Houston didn’t do much of during its first few seasons.

“We think it’s an opportunity here in Texas to have a great rivalry that creates a lot of interest for football, and the NFL,” McNair said. “Frankly, the more we beat the Cowboys, the more interest there will be. We’re the new kid on the block, and we have to prove ourselves. The quicker we do that, the more fun everybody in Houston is going to have.”

There were six years where Houston didn’t have an NFL team after the Oilers left, leaving no other option than to pull for the Cowboys for fans wanting to be loyal to their state. And the Texans might not even rank second, since there is a fanatical following for the Texas Longhorns throughout much of Texas.

Loyalty to the Longhorns run so deep that many locals vowed never to support Houston after the team drafted defensive end Mario Williams instead of Vince Young with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft.

“They really messed up in passing up Vince Young,” said Richard Raymond, a state lawmaker from Laredo. “It’s still hard for me to forgive them for that. I would have certainly liked the Texans a lot more had they gone with Vince Young. They let that one get away.”

Houston is also oddly still competing with a team that left the state 14 years ago. Bum Phillips, who coached the Oilers during their “Luv Ya Blue” heyday in the late ‘70s, thinks Houston’s success this season could finally win over fans who soured on the NFL when Bud Adams moved the Oilers to Tennessee after the 1996 season. That team is now the Titans and they happen to be led by Young.

“The Oilers and the city tied together so great during a long period of time that when they left a lot of people just really lost interest in football,” Phillips said. “It took a while, it took what the Texans are doing now, which is winning, to get them back excited and back to football again.”

It was Bum who, at the height of the Oilers’ success, famously said of the Cowboys: “They may be ‘America’s Team,’ but we’re Texas’ team.” He still believes it.

“They are the state’s team,” he said of the Texans. “As far as I’m concerned they’ve always been the state’s team. The thing I thought that made the Oilers the state’s team is the effort they put out … that’s what inspired Houston to get behind them and the Texans are doing that right now. They are laying it all on the line every game.”

Gov. Rick Perry, not surprisingly, expressed support for both teams and their “competitive spirit.”

“While these two teams have gotten off to very different starts, nobody participating in this game needs to be reminded how quickly things can turn around in the NFL,” he said.

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