The Tavern On Gray

Yes, there is a $10 cover, but it's worth avoiding the usual unpleasantries — i.e., a lack of seating and uninterested company. Around town, your group's chances of finding a seat at UF viewings are about as good as Chris Lebon's against Rampage Jackson. (And don't even pretend like Lebon would stand a chance, because you know that fool would get beat down!) But all smack talking aside, The Tavern's wealth of bar space and more than 100 televisions ensure you don't have to arrive at the place at 8 a.m. to make sure you have a seat for the 9 p.m. fight. Plus, the cover filters out all those who aren't actually interested. In other words, it's all about the fight. The Tavern has all the necessities for the UF crowd — choice eats, nice beer selection and a quick staff. Plus, in the unlike-most-places department, The Tavern is stocked with pool tables, so you can pass time during the talk-about-nothing breaks between fights, and there's also a patio filled with TVs. So even in the smoking-ban era you can simultaneously satisfy your tobacco and man-on-man-action addictions.

Listening to Bill Brown do the Astros has always been great, but it's gotten better and better the longer he's been working with Jim Deshaies. The famously goofy former pitcher brings out Brown's usually hidden puckish side. Still very much the straight man, he's now managing to land a few jabs in the back-and-forth that can make listening to yet another Astros slump bearable. Not to mention that — as always — he's as hardworking, knowledgeable and easy to listen to as they come.

YMCA

It's official: The current downtown YMCA building, a ten-story Renaissance Revival structure designed by Kenneth Franzheim in 1941, is coming down, and a new (and reportedly smaller) Y will be built near the current location. Some members might be dreaming of the new, shiny, state-of-the-art facilities, but we're going to miss the current Y's pool. Yeah, it's past its prime, but the lovely tiny blue tiles that cover the room and pool's edge (mismatched as some of them are) recall a more gracious time, before Speedos and water aerobics. A home to ex-swim champs and kids in floaties alike, the Y's pool is an egalitarian refuge for the aquatic set. And the Y's subsidized fees make it possible for everyone to enjoy the water.

There's one thing that sets John Granato and Lance Zierlein apart from every other sports-talk show in Houston: They're freaking funny. Hilarious, even. Zierlein is a master at voices (ESPN's Lou Holtz and "SEC Guy" are highlights), and Granato is the loud guy at the bar you don't mind so much because he's actually entertaining you rather than boring you. It helps that both know their stuff, too — especially Zierlein, a coach's son who knows how to break down film and spot flaws instead of just spout clichés.

Okay, so Rafer Alston may be Houston's contribution to the bad boys of the NBA after a pair of run-ins with the cops last August. He was charged with public intoxication and assault in Space City, and then charged with stabbing a man at a Manhattan nightspot. But in an issue dedicated to sin, that just means "Skip" rises to the top of the list. And anyway, there's no doubt that the Rockets' season would have been even more disappointing without the three-point bombing, 6-foot 2-inch guard. Remember, without him during games 1 and 2 in the playoffs against Utah, the team dropped both contests. But with him at the helm, the Rockets tore through the league, firing off a historic 22-game winning streak, all without All-Star center Yao Ming on the floor.

Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark

Houston, it's about damn time this happened. Though there've been other public skateparks, the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark is the very first City of Houston public skatepark, and people couldn't be more excited. And by all accounts they should be. The new concrete beast that locals now get to shred at is a colossal 30,000 square feet of rails, pools and stairs. It also includes a 20-foot cradle that may seem over the top to some, but hey, if you're going to build a skatepark in Texas, you might as well build it like everything else here. Bigger and better than anything else, this place is the Astrodome of skateparks.

Todd Graham did the miraculous in 2006:  He led the Rice Owl football team to its first bowl game in 45 years. He got a raise and a contract extension, and then he split the beautiful Rice campus for the University of Tulsa's Golden Hurricane football team. Last season, Graham returned to Rice Stadium and The Marching Owl Band (The MOB) showed Graham their appreciation, performing a halftime show called Todd Graham's Inferno, which ended with his being called a douchebag. The Tulsa athletic director complained to Conference USA about The MOB's lack of sportsmanship, and The MOB's band director later apologized. But the point had been made: The entire country now knows that Todd Graham is a douchebag.

Erudition, calm conversation — these are ­generally not attributes associated with sports-talk radio. Mindless blather, yes; pathetic "guy talk," sure; but intelligent, fact-based discourse, no. Unless you're listening to Charlie Pallilo on 790-AM. He leaves the screaming to the other stations (and in Houston, there are plenty of other sports-talk ­stations). He'll argue with fans and call an idiotic trade proposal an idiotic trade proposal, but he'll do it without the macho bluster and frat-boy crassness that so much of sports radio has become. Now if he could just get the Astros' farm system to stink less.

One runs out of words to describe the voice of Bob Ford. Deep and booming are just too cliché. But it's fair to say that the Minute Maid Park sound system isn't needed to hear Ford in the deepest of center-field seats. He doesn't cheer. He doesn't shout. He just uses his majestic voice to relay the lineups or the batter. And there's no better sense of being at a baseball game than when Ford welcomes the crowd to Minute Maid Park. He's not just the best stadium announcer in baseball; he's also the best stadium announcer in all of professional sports. Perhaps that's why his voice can be heard on TV spots for the Fox Sports Net affiliates throughout the country.

The Houston Texans' defense has not always been a joyful thing to behold, unless you like suckage. But that could be quickly changing, in no small part thanks to aggressive, smart, talented players like linebacker DeMeco ­Ryans. NFL Rookie of the Year in 2006, he made the Pro Bowl the following year and in 2008 he's been anointed as the leader of the Texans' D. He'll be the guy wearing the radio headset in the helmet that previously only QBs could wear. Ryans came from the University of Alabama with a sterling reputation (off the field, too; he graduated in just seven semesters). Everything he's done so far in Houston has shown the reputation was well-­deserved.

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