HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans used their opener Sunday against Indianapolis to honor and remember the victims of the Uvalde Elementary school shooting.
The Texans hosted the Uvalde high school football team and wore “Uvalde Strong” decals on their helmets after 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting there in May.
The team joined with grocery store chain H-E-B to pay for the team to travel the 280 miles from Uvalde and watch the game from a suite. It’s part of the team’s continuing support for the community after donating $400,000 to the Robb Elementary School memorial fund soon after the shooting.
Senior linebacker Justyn Rendon said it was the first time most of his teammates had ever attended an NFL game.
“It means a lot to a lot of these guys just to get away from Uvalde in general and just enjoy being here,” he said. “A lot of these guys may never experience an NFL game like this. So it’s a real big thing.”
Uvalde coach Wade Miller said they want to do whatever they can to continue to honor those who lost their lives in the shooting.
“As far as the memory of 21, it’s important to us,” he said. “We all either lost somebody or knew somebody (that did) and ... we’re like the rest of the world, we just want to help in some way. And hopefully this helps.”
A video recognizing the team was shown on the video board in the stadium during a timeout in the first quarter Sunday. Uvalde players cheered as they were shown on the screens before a message that read: “We stand with Uvalde" flashed on the boards.
A contingent from the Texans including linebackers Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill visited Uvalde earlier this month and surprised the team with new uniforms provided by Nike during a team dinner.
They were both thrilled to have the team at Sunday's opener.
“Whenever those kind of things happen, news comes in, people come in and they’re with them for a little bit," Grugier-Hill said. “But at the end of the day, the reality is the people leave and they’ve got to still deal with the reality of what happened. So to just be with them for a little bit and just try to bring some joy to them and get them out here is great (and) I’m glad they’re here today."
Kirksey said he's built relationships with some of the players and enjoyed getting to know them before their visit to Houston.
“For them to allow me to come visit their city and sit down and go to their school, go to their field, it was good to have them come to Houston and see us play as well," he said. “So it was great to have them in the stands."
Miller has been overwhelmed by the support the Texans have give his team.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “You live out in a small southwest Texas town, and to know people care about us and when these guys find out that those guys want to know what their score is, it means the world.”
Rendon was asked if he was a Texans fan before the game. He paused and looked sheepish before answering.
“I’ll be totally honest, I’m 49ers fan,” he said. “But it’s just amazing and wonderful what the Texans have done for us and the whole city of Houston, too.”
Added Miller: “We have a lot of fans on our team of a bunch of different teams — but we’re all Texans fans now.”
Both Miller and Rendon spoke about how sports has helped the city find a distraction and try to heal in the wake of such an unthinkable tragedy. Rendon takes special pride in wearing No. 21 on his jersey to remember the victims every time he takes the field.
“It means a lot, especially to the city of Uvalde just being able to run out on Friday nights and represent the 21 lives that were lost on May 24,” he said. “I’m representing them on and off the field."
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