HOUSTON -- The cardboard sign at a recent Houston Texans' game harkened back to a long-time love affair. One steeped in passion, betrayal and cast in a different hue.
Luv Ya Steel Blue.
As much as the Oilers are still ingrained in Houston's football fabric, the city has moved on. The Texans, in the playoffs for the first time in their 10-year NFL existence with today's wild-card game against Cincinnati, are finally coming into their own.
"It's starting to feel like a Texans town," said Matt Turk, the 43-year-old punter in his second stint with the team.
There's definitely a generational divide when deciphering Houston's football ties. Fans 30 years old and younger generally don't relate to the Oilers. While they might have some fuzzy memories and have heard the stories of 35-3 blown leads, the derrick is nothing more than a cool retro logo.
For those who lived for Earl Campbell and Billy Cannon and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, and died with Bud Adams' crimes against sports humanity, the Texans offered a chance to cheer again. The spirit of the Astrodome was reborn under a new roof.
"It means a lot to give back to these people and they deserve it," linebacker Brian Cushing said.
Reliant Stadium doesn't hold any physical reminders of the Oilers. There is no statue to Campbell ripping through a tackle at the entrance. Warren Moon's jersey doesn't hang from the retractable roof.
But you'll spot a fan sporting Moon's No. 1 walking with another wearing Matt Schaub's No. 8. The passion once reserved for the powder blue has been signed over to the red, white and blue.
"It feels awesome," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "You can't deny that feeling. The fire radiates. This stadium is so loud. That's why I say keep room for us, keep lifting us up. We need it.
"That is a weapon. When that stadium is on fire, if I was standing next to you, you couldn't hear me talk. It confuses offenses. It gives us energy to know that our fans are behind us. It's magical."
And this postseason, especially with the first game at home, promises to forge the sort of attachment that isn't bought by an expansion fee. Emotions run high during the playoffs, win or lose, and with that comes a truer connection between spectators and gladiators.
"We know now that the fans are behind us," Turk said. "Every home game they're going to be here in droves and be loud. It's just a matter of us getting on the field and doing what this team is capable of doing."
That the Texans are even in the playoffs as the AFC South Division champ is a testament to their resourcefulness and persistence. Houston has lost nearly a dozen players to the injured list, including Schaub, linebacker Mario Williams and backup quarterback Matt Leinart.
Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates started the division clincher. Even miracle-working defensive coordinator Wade Philips had to take a leave of absence to undergo gallbladder surgery.
"Houston is the kind of city that embraces a winner," 31-year-old Texans fan Eve Hamons said. "Everybody jumps on the bandwagon."
The playoff drought for Houston makes the Cowboys' postseason struggles sound like a hiccup. Sure, the Cowboys have won only two playoff games in the last 16 years, but Jerry Jones' underachieving franchise has been in the playoffs seven times since its last Super Bowl win.
Houston hasn't witnessed a home team in the postseason since 1993.
"This city is thirsty, thirsty for playoffs," Houston area talk-show host David Nuño said. "Now they're going to get it."