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A Letter to Third-and-Long

A Texans fan pours his heart out to the down-and-distance

(Ringer illustration)
(Ringer illustration)

Dear Third-and-Long,

Hi. Hello. Umm, I suppose there’s no easy way for me to say this other than to just say it — or, I guess, “there’s no easy way for me to write this other than to just write it” would be more accurate, right? Since this is a letter and not a conversation? I don’t know. I don’t know the rules here. I’m sorry. I’m deflecting. This is harder than I thought it was going to be. Shit. I’m sorry.

I remember when you and I first really started hanging out a lot last season. It was fine. My Texans were in a bit of a transition period, groping around in the dark for a quarterback, so it made sense that you were always around. My dad, who’s a Cowboys fan, actually called me after I told my mom about you. My mom’s nice. We had a great first conversation about you. I was like, “Mom, I met someone.” She said, “Oh yeah?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Is she Mexican?” You’ve met my mom. You know how she is. She’s a little old-fashioned like that, so of course that was going to be her first question. But so she asked that and I was like, “No, she’s not Mexican.” She said, “Is she black?” I said, “No.” She said, “Is she white? Asian? What?” I said, “No. She’s none of those.” She said, “Well, what is she?” And I took a deep breath and I closed my eyes and I said, “She’s … Third-and-Long, mom.” Oh, man. That feels like so long ago. A lifetime ago, really. Certainly a lifetime of feelings ago, anyway. Things are so different now.

It was kind of funny, all the questions she had about you. She was so curious. What kind of family does Third-and-Long come from? What are Third-and-Long’s parents like? Where did Third-and-Long go to school? Does Third-and-Long have any kids already? On and on. The whole thing ended with her telling me that she just hoped that I was happy with you, and that the Texans, my team, were happy with you, too, which was just about the best mom-ending I could’ve asked for in that particular situation. My dad, though — that was a way different conversation. He was very upfront, as he tends to be. He tried to warn me. He tried to tell me it wouldn’t work out, that a long-term relationship between you and me and the Texans could be exhilarating, but that mostly it was just going to end up bad. He said something about how you and him used to hang out a lot, too, years and years ago in Dallas. I didn’t believe him. I should’ve, but I didn’t. Because look at me now, writing this letter to you during the worst hours of the night, feeling the worst way possible about it. He was right. He usually is.

Look, it’s just … I mean … it’s just not a successful union, you and me. That’s really all there is to it. I was hoping that it would get better, but it’s not. I probably should’ve figured that out sooner. You know when I should’ve figured it out? Looking back at it all now, I know exactly when I should’ve figured out. It was 2008. That’s a long time ago, yeah, but I can see now that that was the first time I really remember you showing up in my life. You looked so good. You looked so encouraging. I’ll never forget the play.

My Texans had started out that season 0–3 and everything was real shitty, but it was the fourth quarter of our game against the Colts, who we hate, and so it was a real big game, and we were somehow holding on to a 10-point lead with just under four minutes to play. I remember looking up at the clock and seeing you there, Third-and-Long — third-and-8 that time, to be exact — looking absolutely radiant. We just needed a handful of yards to get into field goal range, which would’ve basically sealed it up for us. Our quarterback, Sage Rosenfels (LOL), took the snap and then scrambled out of the pocket. He had a bunch of empty space in front of him. It would’ve been so easy for him to just pick up 5 yards, slide, and then let the field goal unit handle the rest. Alas, I guess he looked at you and saw what I saw, and the allure of picking you up was just too strong in his heart. So he sprinted into war. He approached a gaggle of Colts defenders and, rather than give himself up, he fucking tried to jump over all of them to get to you, haha. Can you even believe that?

The first defender (Marlin Jackson) clipped his legs, sending him hurtling into space, while the second and third defenders (Dwight Freeney and Raheem Brock) crashed into him, sending him spinning sideways. It’s maybe the most famous play in Texans franchise history, at least as far as Texans fans are concerned. In Houston, it’s referred to as the Rosencopter. The 49ers have the Catch. The Steelers have the Immaculate Reception. The Titans have the Music City Miracle. And we have the fucking Rosencopter:

He of course fumbled the ball, and it was of course picked up and returned 68 yards for a touchdown, cutting our lead to three points, and Peyton Manning of course threw a game-winning touchdown a few minutes later. It all started with that third-and-8. Not for nothing, but on the very next possession for the Texans after the Rosencopter, Rosenfels faced another third-and-8. He fumbled the ball there, too. It was there for me to see all along and I just refused to. You, Third-and-Long, are no good for me or for my Texans.

Of all of the teams in the NFL, my beloved Texans have faced you 98 times this season already. That’s way too many. It’s 11 more than the league average, and 29 more than the Cowboys, who’ve faced you only 69 times, which is the fewest in the league, which I’m sure makes my dad very happy.

If we go all the way back through last season, the Texans have faced you 264 times. That’s more than the Cleveland Browns, and let me tell you something: You never want to be worse than the Cleveland Browns at anything.

The further we drill down for information, the worse it gets.

Did you know that of all the times teams have faced you over the past two seasons, the Texans have tried to rush for the first down on third-and-long more than every other franchise? That’s a true thing. Forty-four times is the exact number of times they’ve tried to rush against you. Forty-four times you have shown up, uninvited, and the Texans — my beloved Texans — basically just gave up. “Fuck it,” Bill O’Brien probably said each time. “Third-and-Long is back. Let’s run it so we can punt it.”

I emailed Ringer friends Danny B. Kelly and Kevin Clark, both of whom are very football intelligent, and asked them about all of this. I asked, “Is the whole point of running the draw on third-and-long to set up a fake draw later in the game?” I was hoping that that would be the case, looking for some sort of way to save our relationship, Third-and-Long, because sometimes you really are fun and lovable. The first words of Danny B. Kelly’s response: “Ha ha. I wish.”

I’m heartbroken, Third-and-Long. We’ve just spent so much time together. It’s hard for me to do this. It really is. It truly is. I wish I was stronger, braver, better than doing this in a letter. But I am not. I hope we can remain friends. We run in the same circles, me being a football fan and you being a football stat, so we’ll for sure see each other again. And that’s fine. I’m not expecting you to disappear entirely. That would be unreasonable. I just hope to see you … less? Oh, God. That sounds so awful. I’m so sorry. Shit. I’m sorry.

Goodbye.

— S