Year in Review: The 10 Hottest Sports Topics in Houston in 2015
It was a glorious year for sports in the city of Houston and beyond.
Houston Press photo pool
Today is New Year's Eve, and that's always a logical time for reflection, a time to look back and assess everything that made up our 2015 — business decisions, career decisions, relationships and, yes, sports figures. Over the next 48 hours or so, you will probably read dozens of lists that will emphatically make their respective cases as to why theirs is gospel. I won't bludgeon you with that sort of rhetoric. These lists are like snowflakes. They're all different and unique in their own way, compiled with different methodologies.
For the past two years, my list of the biggest sports stories has been amassed very empirically. Quite simply, I go back through every single one of the several hundred posts I've written and see which topics were talked about most frequently. The winner is the person or topic that garnered the most pub herein. The winner, in my world, is essentially the "King of Content" for the calendar year.
So this is truly a Pendergast-ian list, in which the criteria are based solely on how much I chose to comment about these people or topics. It's like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is tasked with designing a new car, and one of the lab rats helping him shows him the cup holder they will be using for the driver's seat. The cup holder was made for about a 20-ounce cup, and Homer screams at the guy, "No, no, no!! I said a cup holder big enough to hold MY drink!" Homer immediately had them swap it out for a cup holder that could hold a 64-ounce Big Gulp.
This list is my 64-ounce Big Gulp cup holder. This is MY list. Without further ado, let's relive 2015...(the number of posts I dedicated to each person or topic this year is in parentheses)
The king of this list in 2013 and 2014, Manziel settled down just enough to fall to tenth.
10. Johnny Manziel (6)
Until this year, the only person ever crowned "King of Content" in this space has been Johnny Football, and if 2015 proved one thing, it's that the king is not dead, but he's certainly taking a backseat to numerous others. In theory, a ten-week stay in rehab should've removed him from this list entirely, but when you come back from rehab and have a roadside incident with your girlfriend and videos surface of you partying during the bye week (both incidents fueled to varying degrees by alcohol), then you'll probably creep back into the top ten. And that's what Johnny did. Miraculously, he still found time to start a few NFL games, and lo and behold, he actually appeared to be competent. Someday, Johnny will settle down and focus on football, and for content purposes, that will be the day he disappears from this list altogether.
For sportswriters, Ryan Mallett's crappy alarm clock was the real MVP of 2015.
9. Ryan Mallett (6)
Speaking of quarterbacks with anger issues! When Ryan Mallett first arrived in Houston back in 2014, it was with little fanfare. The Texans traded a conditional late-round pick to bring him in from New England. However, he showed enough in a short stint in 2014 for them to bring him back in 2015. For Mallett, though, there was only one problem — the Texans also brought in QB Brian Hoyer from Cleveland. Mallett never really seemed to take to competing for his job, as he overslept a practice during training camp, and then overslept the flight to the Miami game in October. Basically, for content purposes, Ryan Mallett's lack of a functional alarm clock was a true godsend in 2015.
8. Aaron Hernandez (6)
Along the same "carryover from 2014 effect" lines as Manziel, Hernandez remained newsworthy in 2015 as he was swiftly sent up the river for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. Now, the former Patriots tight end awaits trial on another double murder in Boston in 2012. Basically, if you knew anyone in the greater Boston area who was murdered between 2010 and 2013, chances are Hernandez had some sort of hand in it. He now spends his days affixing more and more tattoos to his epidermis, while his former team is in line to win another Super Bowl ring.
The Astros made Houston a baseball town this past summer.
7. Astros resurrection (6)
Not since 1980 has the city of Houston had its NBA, NFL and MLB teams all make their respective postseasons in the same year, but that is exactly what happened (assuming the Texans close out the AFC South) in 2015, which is mind-boggling to process when you consider just how utterly shitty the Astros were at baseball in 2013, a season in which they lost 111 games. But when you spend four seasons in a row averaging well over 100 losses, you accumulate a lot of great young talent. In 2015, the most important piece arrived in shortstop Carlos Correa, the Astros' transformative star who will carry them into the next decade. In the blink of an eye, the Astros have gone from the worst team in their sport to the Houston team most likely to win a title. With all due respect to Clay Walker, it's BASEBALL time in Houston!
Tom Herman has one of the great seasons of any head coach in Houston history.
Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns
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Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts
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Houston Texans vs. Arizona Cardinals
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Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers
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6. Tom Herman (7)
If there were a Coach of the Year award handed out in each city, the Houston winner, hands down, would be Herman. As a first-time head coach, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator took an average University of Houston program, which had settled in as sort of a ho-hum 8-win kind of team under former head coach Tony Levine, and took them to a New Year's Six Bowl game. They spent most of the season undefeated, finished the regular season 11-1 and won the AAC conference title game in resounding fashion over Temple. Beyond that, Herman gave the program an identity and a swagger that it lacked under Levine. The Cougars' brass rewarded Herman with a raise to $3 million a year that should keep him here for the time being. Herman will be one of the most sought-after head coaches when firing season begins next year.
5. Deflate-Gate (7)
It seemed like an innocent enough play at the time, a fairly benign interception by Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson in the AFC Title Game that kept the Patriots out of the end zone (for the time being...the Patriots wound up winning 45-7). Little did we know at the time of Jackson's INT that the Colts would raise a stink over what they perceived to be an under-inflated football. The league would trace its steps back to a couple of Patriots equipment guys who had softened up the balls before the game, allegedly at the behest of Pats QB Tom Brady. The league tried multiple times to throw the book at Brady in the most ham-handed ways possible, but fortunately for Brady (and Chowds everywhere), Tommy Boy was able to lawyer up and Brady's four-game suspension was overturned. The only winners in all of this were sportswriters in need of material and people who liked to make lame jokes about balls being squeezed. (NOTE: I am actually both of those people.)
Harden is an early sleeper to top this list in 2016, which might be a bad, bad thing.
4. James Harden (10)
Most of the people on this list have a tenor similar to all the posts that got them on here. For example, guys like Mallett and Hernandez had posts that highlighted largely negative traits. On the other hand, guys like Herman and (SPOILER ALERT) J.J. Watt were the subject of numerous positive posts. Harden's material was largely positive, but in the ultimate foreshadowing, began to skew into some of the goofy sideshow stuff (READ: Kardashian) that has crept into Harden's game and uneven effort level this season. Harden is an early sleeper to win this thing in 2016, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.
Andre Johnson's sad, likely final chapter played out in Indianapolis.
3. Andre Johnson (10)
Every line of work has its firing season, and for NFL players with high salary cap figures, that season is the month of March. Former Texans great Andre Johnson found that out the hard way in 2015. After sitting down with head coach Bill O'Brien to learn more about his role for 2015, Johnson was reportedly told that he would have about 40 catches if he stayed with the Texans. For a guy who routinely stacked up anywhere from 80 to 100 catches nearly every season, that was all he needed to hear. The Texans cut Johnson, and he wound up signing with the hated Indianapolis Colts. As it turned out, though, O'Brien's forecast was spot on — Johnson heads into Week 17 with 37 catches.
Hard Knocks put Houston front and center of the football world during the month of August.
2. Hard Knocks (11)
For five weeks over the summer, Tuesday night revolved around the Houston Texans, not just here in Houston but everywhere that HBO was available. The award-winning Hard Knocks series centered around the Houston Texans, and for more than a month, guys like Charles James and Kourtnei Brown rose above their anonymity to become American TV sweethearts. The most compelling character of the entire show, of course, was Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, who was like the Tony Soprano of Hard Knocks, only with more cursing.
It's J.J. Watt's world, and we are all living in it.
1. JJ Watt (21)
Honestly, did you think anyone else had a shot?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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