Itinerant Fan

NRG Stadium

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They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that’s certainly true of their football stadiums. These days, the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium is the more recognized standard for football stadium enormity, but back when it first opened in 2002, Houston’s NRG Stadium — then known as Reliant Stadium — took the cake.

Not that NRG Stadium should now be considered a dwarf — quite the contrary, it is still impressively big and spacious. Just one look at it looming over the old Astrodome, once considered the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” should provide a pretty good indicator of its size. Once inside, it feels plush and new and quite appropriate for big events such as the Super Bowl, which it has hosted once before and will again after the 2016 season.

It is used for an annual rodeo, college football’s Texas Bowl and concerts, but its primary use, of course, is as the home of the Houston Texans. When I came to visit, it was a rainy but still muggy Sunday in late September, and the home team was winless at the time, but neither of those things had dampened the crowd’s mood for their team — yet another indication of how much people in Texas love their football.

  •   The Approach

    NRG Stadium is part of a complex that includes the Astrodome, an old arena and a convention hall (all of which currently bear the name of NRG, a local energy concern). The stadium is 7-8 miles southwest of downtown Houston and much farther from the city’s primary airport, George Bush Intercontinental, so budget at least an hour if your plan is to head directly from the airport to the stadium.

    Most fans drive to the game — it its Texas, after all, and it is football so tailgating is a favorite activity — and the parking lot surrounding the stadium is as big and spacious as the venue itself. Season-ticket holders get first dibs at the lots closest to the facility, but for single-game attendees, parking options are plentiful in the surrounding areas — in particular, west of Kirby Drive, which runs along the west side of the stadium. For more detailed parking information, the Texans provide a parking map on their website.

    A service called Parking Panda is a great tool for those looking to remove the uncertainty from the parking experience. This service enables you to find and pay for guaranteed parking spots at lots within easy walking distance of NRG Stadium. You can reserve a space ahead of time, they’ll email you the parking pass, and you can drive to the game with peace of mind. Click below to check out all of their options:

    ppreserve

    There is an alternative if you’re driving-averse. The Red Line on Houston’s light-rail system, which has expanded greatly in recent years, runs directly from downtown to the stadium area. Get off at the Reliant Park station (one would imagine that station name will eventually be changed to NRG Park, but you never know), and be prepared for a fairly long walk to the stadium that crosses a huge parking lot and goes around the Astrodome.

    For my visit, I had the good fortune of knowing a friend in town who was kind enough to take me to the game, happily navigating the traffic along Kirby Drive an hour before kickoff to drop me off within steps of the stadium. On the way back, though, I took light rail and experienced a pretty big crowd at the stadium more than an hour after game’s end.

  •   The Build-Up

    Booking.com

    Tailgating, tailgating, tailgating. Just like nearly all NFL games, if you’re in a group and you own a cooler and a grill, you’re all set. If you don’t want to go through that, though, there are options, starting with a number of restaurants in the surrounding area — particularly on the frontage roads along the Interstate 610 loop, which runs just south of the stadium.

    If you’re using light rail, you’ll pass several Houston-area attractions along the way, including the Houston Zoo, the Museum of Fine Arts and Museum of Natural Science, and Rice University. Buy an all-day Metro pass if you plan on taking multiple trips over the course of the day.

    Or you can do what I did, which was head right inside, since it was my first visit and I figured there’d be a lot to see inside. When I did so, entering through a gate on the stadium’s south side, I was greeted right away by the sight of a mariachi band performing in the plaza and a gathering crowd around it. Not to mention there was an open-air bar right there, so many of the spectators already had drink in hand. So you can expect to be plenty entertained wherever you are.

  •   The Ambiance

    If you’ve been to one giant football stadium, you’ve been to most of them, to be honest. In the NFL, what makes a venue is usually its location or the history of the home team, and NRG Stadium really doesn’t have either going for it — after all, the stadium is miles from downtown and the Texans are the NFL’s newest franchise. What you do get, though, is a clean, modern facility with good sight lines just about everywhere — the upper deck doesn’t stretch upward for miles and miles like a lot of comparable stadiums — and, of course, a retractable roof. NRG Stadium was the first venue in the NFL to have one, dont’cha know, and it’s a handy thing to have when it’s muggy or rainy, as it is a fair amount in Houston.

    If you’re not opposed to walking around, there’s a lot to see and to sample, especially if you’re looking for something to munch on. This being Houston, barbecue and Tex-Mex are very popular themes among the concession stands, and you can find a brisket sandwich or a taco of some variety on every level. Some of the more adventurous entries include stir-fry and cheesesteaks; if you’re looking for more standard stadium fare, there’s always hamburgers, hot dogs and Papa John’s pizza.

    When you take your seat, no matter where in the stadium it is, the first thing you might notice other than the field view is the two giant video screens, one behind each end zone. They’re about as big as any screen you’ll find in the NFL — they’re wider than the width of the playing field — and when they’re not displaying game info are good for other things, such as providing a giant view of J.J. Watt’s face as he exhorts the crowd in a taped message. The star defensive end is very popular in Houston these days, as you can imagine, and he gets shown on the screens a lot.

    I had a seat in the 500 level (see view above), and there was nothing I couldn’t see. After a pregame rendition of “Deep In The Heart Of Texas” (a popular song around here, as it gets played regularly inside at least one other Houston venue), the Texans went out and beat the Buccaneers for their first victory of the season. So the party atmosphere that was present before the game lingered well after the final whistle.

The Particulars

Home Teams
Houston Texans

Address
1 Reliant Pkwy.
Houston, TX 77054

Year Opened
2002

Capacity
71,500

Upcoming Events
All times local
Coldplay (Rescheduled, Date TBD)
Sunday, October 1, 2017
3:30 am
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Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Sunday, October 1, 2017
12:00 pm
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Sam Houston State Bearkats at Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks Football
Saturday, October 7, 2017
1:00 pm
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Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
Sunday, October 8, 2017
7:30 pm
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Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
Sunday, October 15, 2017
12:00 pm
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