By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
When we put out the word to Houston that we were seeking input on the city's ten greatest sports moments and its five most heartbreaking moments, the response was instant and unanimous.
"Don't you have that reversed?" people said.
Why did we get that response? Because Houston sports fans are used to pain, are inured to debacles, are hardened from long experience to expect the worst from local teams.
But they are too hard on themselves, and the players they follow.
It is true, to be sure, that almost every great Houston sports moment did not lead to a championship. Often there was disaster — bitter, cruel disaster — lying in wait just ahead.
But does that somehow lessen the exaltation that greeted the particular moment? Just because the team went on to eventually choke, does that mean that your ecstasy in those glorious, innocent pre-choke moments was invalidated?
One hopes not, if only because a hell of a lot of great Houston sports moments would therefore be invalidated.
Surprising as it might be to some cynics, it was difficult to prune a list of great Houston sports memories down to just ten. But we took on the job.
The resulting list is irrefutable; it is unimpeachable, inarguable; it will stand the test of time until — and only until — a local team does something that deserves to be placed above any of the Ten Golden Moments we list.
And frankly, given the state of local sports teams these days, that may take awhile.
Our list of five heartbreaking moments is similarly sacrosanct. But we're guessing new additions might muscle their way onto that list a little sooner.
Here, then, is The List:
10. The Dynamo Win Back-to-Back Championships
It's easy now to think that Houston is a town that embraces soccer. The Dynamo followers are fanatic, the World Cup drew huge, enthusiastic crowds to bars all over town, youth and amateur leagues are thriving.
They did, of course; but more important, the Dynamo's first two seasons ended in championships, something Houston is always hungry for.
"I think that first year, that first championship, the whole year was kinda just like a celebration of soccer for us in one sense — that we were bringing such a new thing and excitement to the Houston community," says Brian Ching, who scored the dramatic tying goal in the championship game. "And then that last game was kind of like the ending party, almost a fairy-tale ending to a good year."
The Dynamo were favored over the New England Revolution in that first title game, but fell behind. Until Ching put in a header in the second overtime a minute later.
"It's hard to describe that feeling," he says. "It was so much emotion put into the season, put into that game, it just all came out after that goal. That's one of my favorite celebrations ever scoring a goal — the most excitement, the most thrill, the most intensity after that ball went in...I think probably the consensus feeling around the stadium before that goal was one of shock and disappointment, and it immediately turned that around in about a minute."
The Dynamo won on penalty kicks, and successfully defended their title a year later.
"I think it legitimized our franchise as far as being one of the best franchises, going back to San Jose being one of the best franchises over the past five or six years, and it kind of put expectations on our club and on our team and on the players to be successful and continue to be successful, and to be one of the best teams," Ching says. "I think a lot of teams around the league viewed us as the team to beat, week in and week out."
9. The Astrodome Opens
Driving by the Dome now, it looks like some forlorn, outdated atom-bomb shelter next to the more glamorous Reliant Stadium. (Half of the Dome's seating, after all, is below ground level, which is unusual enough in this flood-prone city.)
Seeing its sad, abandoned hulk today does little to bring back the feeling of the utterly transformative effect it had on Houston.
Known for little more than yee-haw stereotypes, Houston had snagged a major-league team on the promise of the Dome. And a major-league team back then was something, something that set you apart from all the other wannabe Big Time Burgs.
And then, when the Dome opened in 1965 — well, it was far, far beyond what the city had ever been able to brag about. All of a sudden, the world was talking about Houston. No longer were we pointing to parks or skyscrapers that were half-measures of what bigger cities had. We had something unique.
Was it tasteful? No, it had idiotically costumed ground crews and female employees, and Judge Roy Hofheinz's Elvis lair. Did it work out as planned? No, the fielders couldn't see the ball against the roof, so it had to be darkened, and Astroturf, that bête noire of traditional sports fans, had to be created — and eventually introduced to every cookie-cutter stadium looking to save a dime.