H Is For Home

Oct. 30, 2006

By Tom Hart

Special to CSTV.com


Tom Hart calls football play-by-play for CSTV and is a contributor to CSTV.com.
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Saturday afternoon in Houston will likely mark the final home game for Cougars quarterback Kevin Kolb.  While the Cougars could still host the Conference USA Championship Game Dec. 2, Saturday will still be a landmark day.


Kolb will exit the home locker room at Robertson Stadium, address the media, and walk out the door into the Texas night. He'll traipse across the parking lot until he meets a 30-foot red and white RV surrounded by tents and adorned with a large red banner. Greeted by "Kolb's Crew," as the sign says, he'll know he's as close to his Stephenville, Texas home as he has been in years.


This is the way Kolb, a four-year starter and passer for 11,763 yards in his career as a Cougar, closes his Saturday nights. Brats, chili, friends and family greet the 6-foot-3 right-hander. Delineated by chalk-marked asphalt that simply reads "Kolb", the quarterback knows the spot in the parking lot by heart.


On occasion a random television announcer will saunter across the parking lot and be greeted with Texas-sized hugs from parents, grandparents and uncles. A cousin that is the spitting image of a young Kevin wonders by, and you have to wonder if the braces and innocence belie another strong Kolb family arm.


His parents have acquired wealth not through paychecks, but via experience, the kind of rewards that come from spending every other fall Saturday watching their son execute a  five-wide offense that was sketched on a napkin by a high school coach. To the untrained eye it's an unorthodox and haphazard attack directed by the most popular tailgater in Harris County. A young man who could have been a gunslinger in Stillwater or Norman instead chose to follow his former high school coach to this urban campus with more empty seats than tickets sold, and alums that dream of the good ole days in the Southwest Conference.


"I knew from day one," Houston head coach Art Briles says. "As a high school freshman he had the size, the look, of a D-I quarterback." 


There is no substitute for experience, Briles said, and Kolb will make his 46th straight start Saturday night against Tulsa. His career has come to this. One start, with cameras rolling, against the conference's best. 


The quarterback opposite is a mirror image on the field, although perhaps a little more clean cut off of it.  Tulsa's Paul Smith threw for 2,847 yards last year. Of many differences between the two, a few standout:  Smith would rather spend his free time strumming his guitar than casting a line. Smith preaches, Kolb hunts. Perhaps Smith has never caught a 75-pound catfish, but he does have something Kolb wants: a C-USA championship.


This is what college football is all about, and it will be going full bore again on Saturday afternoon. Three vats of chili, and tables littered with Fritos, cheese and brownies. Kegs, coolers, and cocktails keep the juices flowing. Deejays spin classic club tunes to keep the atmosphere alive late into the night, even with the distraction of a $10,000 smoker being driven off the lot by thieves last year. It's amazing what the mind will forget when Rob Bass is bumping in the background. 


Who worries about a lackluster first half against UCF when the second stanza produced scores on every possession?


And who can complain when there's so much to appreciate? There's enough cold beer to satisfy a television crew, and enough school spirit to bring the D-line to the party. This is a tailgate, after all. 


The Houston letterman's club is a long putt away, and after they close down their pavilion and pull their taps, several make their way over to the Kolb party. Their rings read SWC, and they curse the Longhorns, Aggies, and Bears as much as they do Texas Governor Ann Richardson for keeping them out of the Big 12. 


In the next breath they swear they want nothing to do with those cheaters from Austin and College Station, that they can make it on their own. The old timers keep their distance from the quarterback, respecting the job he's done and the promise attached to his right shoulder. Sometimes they just stand back and watch.  Perhaps they see themselves, or someone they never were.


These men were brought to UH with the promise of playing home games inside the eighth wonder of the world.  A career of pounding on the artificial turf of the Astrodome may have hardened some cartilage, but not the school spirit.


"These knees should have been chasing co-eds instead of quarterbacks," one letterwinner says. "They would certainly feel better today. But I wouldn't trade it for the world."


They've got a quarterback who has caught his co-ed, and is now busy chasing records. Kolb's fiancé lets him worry about 2-deeps instead of table settings for their spring wedding. She can appreciate the tailgate, now that her starter is safe and sound.


Mr. and Mrs. Kolb keep the RV parked 30 miles north of Houston at Kevin's aunt's house. After dropping it off, they still have a four-hour drive to Stephenville to tackle on Sunday morning. No matter, it's hardly a chore. An uncle flies in from Arkansas every weekend. No one has been more grateful for the Southwest Airlines cattle call.


What's next for Kevin Kolb? The agents are itching to get in the family's front door, while his head coach focuses on the next opponent and a possible conference title run.


Nothing ruins the memory of a great college career like a few lackluster Sundays. For the Kevin Kolb's of the world, the next few weeks represent the chance to embrace the present, appreciate the past and celebrate the friends who have been alongside for every step of the journey. 


In Houston, tailgaters abide by a few simple rules: make sure the chili's hot, the beer is cold and the wins keep coming. Should the Cougars find another win Friday, they may have the promise of another tailgate.  Isn't that worth celebrating?



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