Millie Bush Dog Park, named for the spaniel that roamed the White House under George and Babs, isn't just the best dog park in Houston. According to the editors of Dog Fancy Magazine, it's the No. 1 bark park in the USA. We haven't scoped out the country's other 700 dog parks, so we'll just have to take their word for it. But it's an assertion that's easy to believe, considering the amenities: a 15-acre spread with three gently sloping ponds, a red gravel track, fake fire hydrants, showers and drinking fountains. There's even a separate section for little fellas, where they can sniff, sprint and swim without fear of being bullied by the big dogs. Welcome to doggie heaven.
Rice University - James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Though Houston is nothing like Chicago in terms of wind, the occasional gusts coming in off the Gulf can make flying a kite here an exhilarating experience -- especially at Rice University. In addition to the great view of the neighboring Medical Center, the beautiful campus has many wide-open grassy fields with no overhead wires or obstructions to fry your fun. If you ever get the itch to experiment as Ben Franklin did, there's always a thunderstorm -- not to mention a hurricane -- brewing on the horizon. Let your string out.
As fans are painfully aware, the 2005-2006 Houston Rockets season went from hopeful to hateful, from "Just Do It" to "Just Kill Us." Free agents Derek Anderson and Stromile Swift were a bust and a disappointment, respectively. Tracy McGrady, despite putting forth a stalwart effort, succumbed to back spasms and had to cash in early on in the season. The bags under fatigued coach Jeff Van Gundy's eyes evolved into full-fledged suitcases. And yet, all the while, Yao Ming stood tall (well, really damn tall) as the team's literal and figurative center. The guy whom detractors called soft averaged 22.3 points per game and in one game pulled down 21 rebounds. As his teammates struggled to find their shots, Yao hit his consistently. His never-complain (not even when tortured by a painful growth on his toe), always-deliver attitude was nothing short of heroic on a team with too few heroes. Yao has silenced critics, won new fans and established himself as a major baller and a giant among men.
An NFL coach's hair says a lot about him. Does he sport a pretty-boy tousled look, such as Tampa Bay's John Gruden (a reflection of youthful flashiness)? How about a NASCAR-crew mullet, la Tennessee's Jeff Fisher, reminding everyone that a good ol' boy can survive despite a 4-12 season? Examining the grooming habits of first-year Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, one finds a meticulous attention to detail and a sense of efficiency and precision. Ah, but there's a little flair, by way of gelled-up spikiness, too. Does his hairstyle -- precise, methodical and stylish -- point to what we can expect from his high-powered offense of complex zone blocking schemes, laser-precise passing routes and a little hotdogging via wide receivers and running backs? Time will tell, but we're guessing this is one coach who won't be pulling his hair out this season.
Unless you were trapped under a large rock for the past eight months, you know that the Houston Texans have shaken things up a bit. Gone are oft-maligned GM Charley Casserly and oft-confused head coach Dom Capers. And though the changes appear to be for the better, the transition hasn't been without controversy. There was the whole picking-Mario Williams-over-Reggie Bush thing, which caused a near riot at Reliant Stadium on draft day. And owner Bob McNair enlisted the help of "consultant" Dan Reeves, essentially asking him to check Casserly's work. Yet fans have never turned on McNair, who has stood behind his new coach, his new No. 1 pick and his new direction. So commanding is his presence, detractors use words like "ownership" and "management" -- but never "Bob McNair." A class act, McNair has shown fans that he wants to win now, and that he will aggressively burn through time, money and personnel to do it.
The phrase "family-friendly course" is enough to send avid male golfers running. Last we checked, most guys hit the links to escape the pressures of work and family. But here's hoping the adult members of The Clubs of Kingwood see the business sense of buying into the club's golf program for kids. Savvy parents can nurture their own blossoming Tiger Woodses at the sprawling country club/courses in Kingwood. No need to tire out the tykes on the green: The program offers four-seater family golf cars. Kiddos can shoot on a nine-hole course, designed specifically for younger players (no sand traps or water hazards). Even the score cards -- colorful and cutesy -- are kid-friendly. We figure this is the place where smart parents can raise their own golf phenoms, watch 'em get rich off endorsements, retire off their earnings and spend their golden days on the course.
For a true baseball fan, it's not just the image of the triple play or the stolen base that makes it memorable; it's also the sound of the announcer's voice. For 21 years, Milo Hamilton has led fans through the Houston Astros' regular-season bumbles and postseason heroics with his velvet timbre. Who can forget last year's 18-inning, NLDS Game Four against the Atlanta Braves, when Chris Burke nailed the game-winning home run? Nothing could encapsulate the moment like Hamilton's "Iiiiiit's gone! Iiiit's gone! It's gone, Chris Burke! Holy Toledo, what a way to finish!" And somehow it didn't sink in that the 'Stros were headed for it all until Hamilton announced "Your Houston Astros are going to the World Series!" With the team changing and Hamilton scaling back his duties, we might never again hear such a call. So we'll say it now: Holy Toledo, Milo, we love you, man.
It's not the bouncy organ music or seven seconds of a metal-pop tune that calls Houston Astros fans to order at Minute Maid Park. No, it's the booming pipes of Bob Ford, who, as he checks names off the starting lineup, sounds as if he's listing horsepower and torque stats on a Chevy truck commercial. In the lull of a regular-season contest (and there are several), Ford picks up the pace with his overly dramatic intonations, such as "No. 14: Morgan Ehhhnsberg!" Or he'll make a player's name sound like an action verb: "And now, JasonLane!" And the dude has an excellent command of syllables, as evidenced by his syncopated "Ad-am-Ever-uuuuhhhtt!" If this guy ever said "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!" during a game, we'd be in heaven.
On a team that boasts the inhumanly powerful and blazingly fast wide receiver Andre Johnson, it would seem blasphemous to name anyone else Best Houston Texan. But Andre the Giant, while ever fearsome, was felled by a lackluster offense last season. Truthfully, there were few obvious standouts in the 2005-06 campaign. But without question, Dunta Robinson was one. The second-year cornerback didn't show the flash of his 2004 rookie season, where he almost nailed Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, but on a Texans defensive unit that too often disappeared, Robinson always showed up. At five foot ten and 178 pounds (soaking wet with pads), Robinson was clearly the team's best hitter. He racked up 93 tackles and one highlight-reel-worthy interception against the Indianapolis Colts. The single INT is a sign that savvy teams aren't throwing the ball his way, the ultimate show of respect for a defensive back. Another show of respect: Robinson is one of the first names opposing teams request in trade talks. With the Texans revamping the defense this year, the young, diminutive Robinson promises to be a huge asset.
We love football on TV -- and we love twins. And, thanks to the Houston Texans and the Houston Texans Cheerleaders, we have both. While the football team didn't dazzle anyone last year, the cheerleaders most certainly did, with members such as Larisa and Marisa, the identical -- ahhh -- twins. A few of the lovely ladies (including our fave, Celina) recently made the cover of ESPN The Magazine with Texans No. 1 draft pick Mario Williams, showing pigskin fans that the Texans offer plenty to watch on and off the field. Cheerleading director Alto Gary is considered one of the best in the business, and it shows: Not only are these dancers impossibly beautiful (just the tryouts could be a spectator sport), but they're talented and community-minded. It's almost a shame that the Texans figure to be so good this year; we really enjoyed focusing on the ladies and their pom-poms.

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