[This is a guest post from 1LT Christopher Zavesky, UH alum class of 2011. The article has been edited for brevity and clarity.]
7:00pm CST on a Saturday night in Houston, Cougar fans and alumni gathered to witness the start of the Tom Herman era at TDECU stadium. Since coaching Ohio State to the 2015 National Championship, the Cougars anxiously awaited what the future held in store and what the #HTownTakeover would be about.
Over 7,600 miles away in Kuwait and eight hours ahead, I awoke at 1:50am to listen to the game on my phone while lying in my bunk. At that time I believed the hashtag #HTownTakeover was a marketing ploy, albeit a clever one, that the new coaching staff was using to simply to entice local Houston high school football players to stay home and play at UH. Houston’s legitimacy as a major program appeared to be a longshot after the Keenum era, even with a highly touted, championship caliber offensive coordinator as our new head coach. That longshot was especially apparent given that the game against Tennessee Tech wasn’t even televised and I instead had to listen to the game via radio broadcast. But with a convincing season opening win, something Coog fans haven’t had many of lately, the match was struck and my interest was peaked.
Following a major upset win against Louisville, the #HTownTakeover was still nothing to me more than a catchy hashtag but I was slowly becoming a true believer. Cautiously optimistic, week after week I would wake up to listen to the games quietly in my bunk in the dead of night, until Halloween. The unveiling of their alternate, blackout uniforms and a televised event against an SEC opponent showcased to the country what the University of Houston was about. After half a season of impatiently knocking on the door to gain the country’s attention, the Coogs kicked the door in and let people know what the #HTownTakeover was all about: The Coogs came to win every week and put the university on the map.
With that victory, the level of attention for the Coogs was increasing here to a level that games were televised here regularly via the Armed Forces Network (AFN). For the remainder of the season my game day ritual changed to going to the gym, which is one of the few places with a TV for me to watch. After the Coogs’ epic comeback win against Memphis, the UConn loss was a shot to the stomach but didn’t damper Coach Herman’s goal of a conference championship victory. I knew the Coogs could still finish strong. The #HTownTakeover absolutely dropped the hammer on service academy school Navy, which was especially satisfying for me to see on the front page of the official US Armed Forces newspaper, The Stars and Stripes [image below].
After all the attention and big wins, not many outside of the Houston community believed this momentum would carry them through the Peach Bowl to a victory against #8 ranked Florida State.
All season long I had game day to look forward to at the end of the week. After twelve regular season games and a conference championship victory over Temple, the bowl season layover tested my patience. During the hiatus I watched Coog highlight videos and read articles and analysis over and over to hold me over until game day. The anticipation built up and finally the the Peach Bowl was around the corner.
The night of the Peach Bowl I witnessed the #HTownTakeover live from Kuwait. I watched service members in their Seminoles apparel scoff and storm out before the end of the first half. Onlookers who started the game wondering who Houston was were now asking me all sorts of questions and wondering who this team was that somehow beat Louisville, Vanderbilt, Memphis, Navy, and now Florida State.
The #HTownTakeover has proven to be more than a marketing strategy: It has shown me that it represents an incredible amount of hard work, preparation, and attention to detail. Those three things have lead to success on the football field and gives us fans confidence and pride in our alma mater.
I can see on social media from Kuwait that this confidence and pride is now permeating throughout the entire university, across the city of Houston, and throughout us alumni who are deployed overseas.
Most importantly, for me, it made me feel a part of something. Never once did I feel like I was missing out despite being so far away. I never felt like an outsider looking in. In fact, I’d say I’m the lucky one to have witnessed firsthand the #HTownTakeover come to Kuwait. Go Coogs!