Texas, the only state that was previously its own republic (1836-45), arguably has the most unique history of all the states of our great nation, and any true native Texan will be quick to politely stand by that notion.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
In addition to its intriguing past, it ranks second in the U.S. in geographic size and population and hosts three of the country’s 10 most populous cities. Topping this trio is Houston, host of the fourth-most people in the nation and a number of great Sports Power Weekend opportunities.
Texas sports are frequently depicted in the media – fictionally, factually and sometimes a combination of the two – but you will appreciate having a personal taste of the Lone Star State’s high-level action on and off the often-discussed football fields.
One of the strongest aspects of your Sports Power Weekend is that there is a bounty of athletic, entertainment and dining options in the area. From high school football under the Friday night lights to the Texans game on Sunday and hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants to five-star eateries, the choices in the greater-Houston area are practically endless.
Just make sure to rent a car for the weekend even if aiming to stay within the city limits. The locals will tell you that everything is a “20-minute drive away,” but each jaunt is well worth the time spent behind the wheel.
As is the case with all Sports Power Weekends, determining which events to attend plays a key role in your trip, and this journey is no different. Interestingly enough, the most influential decision affecting your time Houston this weekend involves an entirely different city – College Station, Texas, the home of Texas A&M University.
Although educators in Austin are typically referred to as the operators of the state’s flagship school, Texas A&M was the first public institution of higher learning established between the Rio Grande, Sabine and Red Rivers. In 1876, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas opened its doors before becoming the 38,000-plus research-intensive campus that exists today.
After over 130 years, it is no surprise that the Texas Aggies have a multitude of distinct traditions. Every person joining the student body is taught the story behind each at a special separate orientation that is appropriately named “Fish Camp,” and among the many highlighted is Midnight Yell.
Texas A&M began hosting yell practices – Aggies never “cheer;” they yell – in the early 1900’s, but the first official Midnight Yell was held in a campus dorm in 1931 prior to that year’s game against ‘t.u.,’ a school most college fans refer to as the University of Texas (as the first school of higher learning in Texas, A&M does not call the Longhorns’ institution THE state’s university but instead another Texas university).
Midnight Yell occurs every Friday night at Kyle Field before each Aggie home game as well as at local sites for away contests. Several thousand supporters show up to the stadium for the event prior to home games, and it truly is a great experience for anyone who has a deep appreciation for the unique atmosphere that only a college campus can provide.
For the purpose of a well-rounded Sports Power Weekend, this agenda highlights an initial evening in Houston that limits Friday travel and highlights increased nightlife options, but a night at yell practice is a solid choice, especially if you’re lucky with your lighter when it’s time to “flick your Bic” when it is complete.
- High school football game
Thanks to Houston’s location, it is a hotbed for all types of food, especially when looking for a hearty steak, true Southwestern barbeque, fresh seafood or authentic Tex-Mex. The quantity of quality cuisines is only outnumbered by the amount of superb dining choices; so don’t be afraid to be adventurous if you have a hankering for something particular.
However, if you ever are in a bind and need a failsafe option throughout the weekend, there are two exceptional groups of Houston-born restaurant families that are scattered throughout the area: Goode Co. and Pappas. Each has easily accessible locations that cover a wide range of food fare, including Pappasitos (Tex-Mex) and Pappadeaux (Cajun/seafood) as well as Goode Co. Seafood and Goode Co. BBQ. All Houstonians are familiar at minimum with these family chains, and I don’t know one who hasn’t had a pleasant experience.
For a true taste of Texas on your first night, there is no better destination than one that is named just that: The Taste of Texas (10505 Katy Freeway). The establishment sends steaks and pies nationwide, and in 22+ years of experience – my first visit was at two-months old – I’ve always left in an overly-full state of bliss.
The food is incredible and dining there is a true Texas experience. The classy, home-style ambiance is loaded with artifacts relating to Texas history and sports; so much so, the Hende family, who owns the place and is comprised of great all-around people, offers tours that focus on Texas history during non-operating hours to local elementary school students.
After eating your hand-picked steak from the butcher’s counter – don’t leave without a slice of homemade pecan pie with Blue Bell cinnamon ice cream and/or a cinnamon coffee – head to a local high school football stadium or downtown for drinks.
As easily guessed by Houston’s size, it clearly isn’t a place that shuts down entirely for Friday night games as the movies portray about smaller towns in Texas. High school contests still have great energy, especially as teams will be preparing for the ensuing Texas state playoffs. A list of games is available thanks the to Houston Chronicle, but the weekend’s biggest game doesn’t occur until Saturday morning.
Late-night downtown options are plentiful with numerous bars and nightclubs. For a casual drink before a full Saturday, check out the Main Street area where Flying Saucer, which boasts more than 200 beers, and Molly’s Pub are two good options to cap the evening.
o Chicken Oil Company or Freebirds or Layne’s
o George H. W. Bush (No. 41) Presidential Library and Museum
o Kyle Field
o Texas Roadhouse
o North Gate
o Rhodes Memorial Stadium
o Houston Museum of Natural Science/Holocaust Museum Houston/NASA
o Goode Co. Barbeque Armadillo Palace
Start the day early with breakfast at The Buffalo Grille (3116 Bissonnet), a popular early-morning eatery with Mexican breakfast combos, larger-than-life breakfast burritos and pancakes possessing diameters of over 12 inches. Just get there around 9:00 am because the line gets long early throughout the week but even more so during the weekend.
After breakfast, it’s time to get prepared for football as usual, whether it’s in Houston or College Station.
Photo courtesy of AggieAthletics.com
Aggieland is a great place for a full college gameday so head north on Highway 6 to start the 90-minute trip. The Aggies host its official Maroon Out game at 6:00 pm against No. 11 Oklahoma, and the official 12th MAN will be in full form for the primetime duel. Take a quick pit stop in Navasota if you need to grab a coke or drive through a What-A-Burger and shortly after you’ll arrive in Bryan-College Station.
Depending on what you’re in the mood for, the best midday local food choices include the Chicken Oil Co., a tradition-rich burger shop that doubled as a gas station when it opened in 1977; Freebirds, a regional chain that serves burritos sized comparably to the length of a familiar Lynard Skynard song; or Layne’s, the Aggie-owned and operated home of the “soon-to-be famous chicken fingers.”
After satisfying the stomach, it’s time to feed the mind with a tour of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. There are plenty of intriguing pieces from Bush tenure as the 41st President, including quality documentation of US involvement in the Gulf War.
Next get ready for the Aggies’ most anticipated home game of 2010 by heading towards Kyle Field after filling the cooler with Lone Star beer or Shiner, an extremely popular brewmaster that takes its name from its hometown in southeast Texas.
Prior to the game the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets will march into the stadium, led by the First Lady of Aggieland, a female collie named Reveille. Then its time to hope the team puts up a lot of points because when the Aggies score so does the home crowd; it’s tradition to kiss your date after every point registered.
After the game, grab some great bread and a rack of ribs at Texas Roadhouse before hopefully celebrating a victory on North Gate. The student body regularly fills this bar scene, and its where the campus’ most revered bar, the Dixie Chicken, is located.
Staying in Houston, the No. 3 Katy Tigers (9-0) face off against No. 13 Cinco Ranch (9-0) at 11:00 am at Rhodes Memorial Stadium with the District 19-5A title on the line in the final game of the regular season. The Tigers, who have won the Texas 5A Division II state title two (2007, 2008) out of the past three years, have a rabid, loyal fan base that in its best showings can rival a small college atmosphere, especially in such a pivotal contest like this.
For a more cultural experience, the Houston Holocaust Museum and the Houston Museum of Natural Science are of the highest caliber. To truly experience “Space City,” you won’t have a problem if your destination is NASA’s Johnson Space Center, although it is a 40-minute commute from the heart of Houston. NASA’s presence in Houston contributed to naming the city’s sports teams the “Astros” and the “Rockets.”
Now it’s time to experience some great Tex-Mex at Pappasitos, which also has great, well-priced margaritas. Order a platinum margarita with the seafood enchiladas or your choice of a south-of-the-border beer with any fajita plate, including the Matamoros combo, which offers a half-rack of pork ribs and an order of chicken fajitas for one with all the fixings.
After eating, you can saddle up almost anywhere to watch the A&M-OU game or see the University of Texas play Kansas State. Sam’s Boat and Texadelphia are just two options of many.
Close the night out with a chopped beef sandwich at Goode Co. barbeque while watching the late games or stepping into the restaurant’s Armadillo Palace across the street, where you can catch some live Texas country music.
Photo courtesy of AP Images
Sunday morning brunch at Brennan’s, an elegant restaurant that offers a delicious New-Orleans style brunch, is a perfect way to prepare for the Texans’ game against the San Diego Chargers at Reliant Stadium.
When you arrive to tailgate at Reliant Park, be sure to catch a glance of the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Houston Astrodome. The Astrodome is far removed from its glory days when it was the modern marvel constructed in 1965, but as a sports fan you should at least get a first-hand glimpse of the world’s first domed sports stadium.
After the Texans-Chargers game, Little Woodrow’s (2306 Brazos St.) will provide a great environment for the late afternoon games and is less than two miles from the Toyota Center.
In the newest professional arena in Houston, the Rockets take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in their third home game of the season. The Toyota Center is also home to the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros.