Andy Dalton won't have many fans at homecoming

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton throws a pass during the first half of their NFL...

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton throws a pass during the first half of their NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis, Missouri, December 18, 2011. (REUTERS/Sarah Conard)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 PM ET

KATY, TEX - As you drive into Andy Dalton’s home town here in south Texas, just 50 kilometres west of Houston’s glitzy Reliant Stadium, you feel like you’ve just been transported into an episode of Friday Night Lights.

Sure, the suburbs of this sprawling urban region have oozed out this way, as evidenced by the nearby Bass Pro Outlet and Katy Mills Mall. But cruising down Katy’s historic main drag, those things seem an entire world away, not just a five-minute jaunt down the freeway.

On the left side of the road is a store called Bullfrog Spas. On the right, beyond the series of antiquated grain elevators, a water tower that can only be described as urine yellow has the word “KATY” spelled out on it in large letters. Railway tracks run parallel to the street, which is sprinkled with Harleys and pickup trucks.

Suddenly, you come to the impressive Katy High School, which is located smack dab next to the Billy Morgan Rodeo Arena. Be wary when you weave through the Rodeo Arena parking lot. Seems the bulls and horses have left a few, ah, souvenirs, on the pavement.

Katy High has some illustrious alumi. Actress Renée Zellweger went here. So, too, did country singer Clint Black — that is, until he dropped out.

But more than Hollywood glitz or Grand ’ol Opry fame, what counts here more than anything is football. Period.

Folks here burst with pride at the success of the Katy high school program. Splattered on the outside of the school wall in large letters blares the message: STATE CHAMPION FOOTBALL 1959, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008. An small electronic billboard at the front flashes: “Katy High School: Home of Champions.”

During his days at the school, Dalton twice won games for the Katy Tigers at Reliant Stadium. That’s right; Katy TIGERS. Dalton went from being a Tiger to a Bengal.

Coincidence? Who knows. This much is certain: In each nook and cranny of the school, Tiger fever is everywhere, from the full-sized Tiger figurine in the main foyer to the hundreds of tiger paws painted on the sidewalks.

Dalton, of course, has graduated from wearing the red-and-white of the Katy Tigers to the orange-and-black of the Cincinnati Bengals, with an impressive stop at TCU along the way. And on Saturday afternoon, he’ll be back at Reliant Stadium, a place where he also made an appearance with the Horned Frogs as well.

Of course, this time will be different.

This time, unlike his three previous games at Reliant, Andy Dalton will be the enemy, local boy be damned.

For the first time since the AFL-NFL merger, two rookie quarterbacks will start in a playoff game when Dalton leads the Bengals into Houston to face fellow first-year pro T.J. Yates and the host Texans.

“It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere,” said Dalton, who is 3-0 at Reliant. “I know that place can get really loud.

“It makes it fun, having a lot of family and friends there.”

Of course, the Dalton entourage will be in the minority. The Houston area is in a frenzy with Texans fever as the franchise makes its first-ever visit the post-season. Indeed, a Houston team has not been represented in the NFL playoffs since the Oilers in 1994, a dry spell of 18 years.

The Texans teams store reports sales are 20 times what they were 12 months ago. Tickets for the big game are being sold by local brokers for as much as $1,000 a pop.

Still, back here in Katy, 45 minutes from the towering glass skyscrapers of downtown Houston, there are some Dalton supporters who will be in the house backing the visiting QB on Saturday. One of those will be illustrious Katy football coach Gary Joseph, who led the Tigers to their first ever back-to-back state titles in 2007 and ’08.

“The kid’s a winner,” says the personable Joseph, speaking with a strong Texan drawl, as he graciously welcomed a travel-weary columnist into his office. “He won here. We won at TCU. And he’s winning in the pros.

“Some guys wait so long to get into the playoffs. (Texans wideout) Andre Johnson waited eight or nine years. And Andy’s made it in his first year.”

With some of his players pumping iron in a nearby impressive weight room that would make any CFL team drool with envy, Joseph recalled how Dalton, after being drafted 35th overall by the Bengals last April, came back to Katy for a week to work out and throw passes with some of the 2011 Tigers. Andy Dalton, it seems, is not the type of guy to forget his roots.

“That place will be rockin’,” coach Joseph said, referring to Reliant Stadium. “People are excited that the Texans are in the playoffs.

“But Andy played there with TCU. He played in the Rose Bowl.

“He won’t be intimidated by that environment.”

 


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