By BRIEN STRAW, SportsRadio 610

For many Texans’ fans game day starts on Saturday, and has for years. For the ”Feast with the Beasts” crowd, hosting a tailgate in the Green Lot at Reliant requires at least ten hours of preparation (and a large supply of Dan Pastorini’s BBQ rub). It also requires significant financial commitment. But commitment has never been the problem.

“Our first tailgate was the Texans very first game against the Cowboys in 2002 – unless you count the exhibition games at Robertson stadium,” says medical sales rep. Bart Wallace, a founding member of the “Beasts.” Adds Dr. Greg Richards, a dentist from the Galleria area, “since the very first game as we like to say, we sure go through a lot of trouble to drink beer in a parking lot!”  They’re not alone.  Thousands of Texans’ fans have been supporting the team and making the parking lots adjacent to Reliant stadium one of the tops tailgate locations in the NFL for ten seasons, with little to cheer about. Not anymore.

“To me, the Texans have been crying wolf every year, only this year the wolf is real,” says Wallace. “I finally believe,” he adds, “I walked into Reliant knowing we were going to win.“

That the team on the field has finally matched the excellence of the tailgating outside the stadium, makes the investment all the more worthwhile. Typically the “Beasts” will spend about $600 – $700 dollars on their tailgate (excluding adult beverages), but for Sunday’s victory over the Falcons, the event was catered at the mere cost of $1,400.00. “We’ll usually host about 40 – 50 people” says Wallace, although crowds have grown as large as 400 for big games.  Like a home playoff game?

Let’s face it, for much of the Texans’ existence, the team has been lousy and the “12th man” hasn’t been much better. To steal the line from my alma matter Ole Miss – the unequaled tailgating champions of the college ranks, “we may not win the game, but we ain’t never lost a party.”

Against the Falcons, the 12th man came up huge – like the guys in the steel blue uniforms. Whether its Connor Barwin, Brian Cushing or Matt Schaub (on his grandmother’s rascal!) Texans players noticed the impact the fans had in the dome. “They’re such a huge factor, if we can just get [the fans] to be that loud at the start of the third quarter…” an enthusiastic Schaub told Vandy & Lopez this morning, before adding, “maybe we can get the concessions to cut off beer sales five minutes before the second-half kick, to get the fans back in their seats.” With the NFL’s short halftime I’m gonna have to sort of disagree with you on that one Matt.

As Wallace says, “the fans now have the same level of confidence that the players have.”  That confidence, that next man up mentality, that level of execution has the Texans as the number one seed in the AFC right now.  And despite the injury report continuing to challenge the active roster for player depth (Cushing returned to the field Sunday after being helped off, Andre Johnson is listed as “day-to-day” after hurting his hamstring, and punter Brett Hartman was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in the Falcons victory), there’s no reason to doubt that the road to Indianapolis won’t go through Reliant. At least there’s no doubt coming from the fans.  “If you think Sunday’s crowd was loud just wait until the playoff game[s] at Reliant.” Said Dr. Richards. “This is a football crazy town and we’ve been waiting for a playoff team for what seems like forever.”

Apparently, forever is right around the corner.