The 2017 year in Houston sports will be most memorable for one thing: The Astros winning the World Series.
Surprisingly enough — or maybe not given that everyone was watching the game — our coverage announcing the amazing 7th-game win wasn't one of our top read stories of the year, although an earlier in the season story when the Astros were looking good, was.
Our readers were most interested in the Super Bowl, ongoing problems at quarterback with the Texans, allegations of sexual abuse at the Karolyi gymnastics camp, hockey (who knew?) and concussions in football (which as would turn out within a few weeks would place several Texans players on IR).
Oh and readers were fascinated by a story about a former wrestling promoter turned podcaster.
Have a look at these stories and to see their full versions, click on each headline. It was an interesting year, might as well spend a few minutes reviewing it.
SEAN PENDERGAST | JANUARY 24, 2017
Between post-practice, post-game and the day after games, NFL head coaches conduct a couple of hundred press sessions each year. That frequency of contact breeds a familiarity in which media members become poker players who are able to deftly sniff out all of a head coach’s “tells” when he’s being coy or evasive.
When Texans head coach Bill O’Brien really likes something or someone, he tells you, clearly and directly. For example, the Monday after the Texans’ season-ending loss to the New England Patriots, O’Brien was asked about bringing back defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, the architect of the league’s top-rated defense (even — gasp! — without J.J. Watt), whose contract expired this week.
“Romeo has done a great job. I know that we would love to have him back. I know that,” O’Brien gushed. “But I haven’t even sat down with any of the coaches yet or anything like that. But I can tell you Romeo is a great football coach and just means a lot to me personally. We would love to have Romeo back here.”
So Bill O’Brien really likes, borderline loves, Romeo Crennel, and is a huge fan of his work. That’s obvious.
On the other hand, when O’Brien is asked about someone with whom he’s disenchanted or ready to move on from, his answers are indirect, overly general and not really at all about that person. For example, just moments after endorsing Crennel, O’Brien was asked about the job security of offensive coordinator George Godsey, the co-architect (along with O’Brien himself) of an offense that has run like a ’78 Chevy with a banana in the tailpipe the past three seasons.
“We’re looking at everything,” O’Brien deferred. “Look, George does a lot of good stuff for me — every coach does. I haven’t even met with Bob (McNair) yet. I haven’t met with Rick (Smith) yet. We look at everything. Every coach is evaluated. I’m evaluated. I haven’t even heard about my evaluation from the owner. Look, I expect to be here next year, but we will begin the evaluation process here in a minute.”
Somehow, a question about Godsey elicited a bowl of word soup that awkwardly meandered around to O’Brien saying he himself would be back next season. That’s a tell that O’Brien was hiding something. That something would be revealed just three hours later when O’Brien and Godsey agreed to “part ways” (a gentle way of saying Godsey was fired). Apparently, Godsey didn’t do enough “good stuff” for O’Brien.
Truth be told, Godsey was more a sacrificial lamb than a core issue in the 2016 Texans’ offensive ineptitude, just one of numerous victims plundered by the undertow of Brock Osweiler’s complete and utter failure as the team’s franchise quarterback. When Osweiler decided in March to sign a four-year, $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) contract with the Texans, his arrival was supposed to signal the end of the team’s revolving door at quarterback, a depressing parade of six different starters under center in 2014 and 2015 ...
Wrestling's Brother Love, Twice Fired by WWE, Finds Redemption Through Hit Podcast
SEAN PENDERGAST | OCTOBER 31, 2017
For Bruce Prichard, redemption began with a casual conversation on Conrad Thompson’s couch in Huntsville, Alabama, last July, not redemption in the eyes of Prichard’s family or friends, but in the eyes of the professional wrestling industry, which had seemingly slammed the door on him several years prior.
Casual wrestling fans best know Prichard from his time on screen in WWE (then called the WWF) back in the late ’80s and early ’90s as the nefarious Brother Love, an over-the-top, red-faced televangelist who routinely sided with the heels (wrestle-speak for “villains”) and infuriated the babyfaces (or “good guys”) in his weekly interview segment on WWF television. The more embedded wrestling fans know Prichard as the behind-the-scenes right-hand man of WWE majority owner and CEO Vince McMahon for the better part of 22 years, from 1987 until late 2008.
In his time working for McMahon, Prichard saw up close every historically significant wrestling moment, from the Montreal Screwjob to WWE’s going public. He was also fired twice. The first time came in 1991. Prichard was young (28 years old) and single and spent most of his newfound free time hanging out at Heartbreaker’s in Dickinson before returning to the company in 1992. The second time Prichard was let go cut deeper, because Prichard wasn’t a kid anymore. By 2008 he was married to his wife, Stephanie, they had moved back to Houston from Connecticut so she could get the best care in her battle with cancer, and they had twins in grade school. In 2008 there were obligations; there were bills to pay ...
The Super Bowl May Bring a $500 Million Boost to Houston, or None at All
STEVE JANSEN | JANUARY 31, 2017
Denise Douglas of Sharpstown is a nurse by day, a balloon decor specialist by night and on weekends.
“When people are planning events, sometimes the last thing they think about is balloons,” says Douglas, owner of Balloon Boutique and More, one of the 417 Houston-area businesses vetted and approved by the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee in advance of Super Bowl LI.
“I’m hoping to do a lot of business for the Super Bowl events,” says Douglas, who went through a lengthy application process to become an official short-term contractor for the National Football League.
Douglas is one of hundreds of people looking to make an extra buck from the 51st version of The Big Game, between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, scheduled to take place at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, February 5, at NRG Stadium. The spectacle includes the nine-day NFL Experience, a pro football theme park and fan festival that will be held at a dolled-up George R. Brown Convention Center and the brand-new Avenida Houston, a master-planned entertainment district catawampus to Discovery Green. The corporate-focused campus is anchored by the $350 million Marriott Marquis, a lavish hotel that includes a lazy river in the shape of Texas on the roof of the 30-story fortress ...
As the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal continues to unfold, a former Olympic gymnast took to Twitter on Wednesday to remind everyone that the reality of powerful men taking advantage of girls and women is also true outside of Hollywood.
It's old news at this point that former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar has been accused of abusing more than 100 women, including numerous members of the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics teams when famed Romanian coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi were at the helm ...
Les Alexander selling the Houston Rockets was not likely to be something Houston sports fans wanted. He has been a relatively good team owner who has stayed out of the way of the spotlight while giving his basketball personnel the money and power to do whatever necessary to win games. Whether his successor will do the same remains to be seen.
But in the Rockets' uncertain future, Houston hockey fans can feel a sense of optimism. With Les Alexander on his way out, a major impediment to the return of professional hockey to the city is gone.
There is no indication that that return is imminent — Alexander still controls the Toyota Center lease and there is no current talk in the NHL or the AHL about franchise expansion or relocation. But with a hockey arena opening up in one of the largest markets in North America — a market with a history of supporting hockey and which would probably already have an NHL club were it not for infighting among potential ownership groups — discussions could soon begin again ...
The Astros are Dominating Major League Baseball
JOHN ROYAL | MAY 15, 2017
The Astros played the New York Yankees Sunday night in front of a national TV audience on ESPN. Most of the viewers likely tuned in to watch the Jeter ceremonies. But what they instead saw was the Astros destroy the Yankees by a 10-7 score. The Yankees were behind 6-0 after the first inning, and the game was pretty much out of reach after that (and how much fun was it watching Carlos Beltran pass Jeter on the career doubles list with the baseball world tuned into watch the Jeter celebration).
The Astros have been kind of a side story in Houston so far as the season has conflicted with a Rockets play-off run and the Texans drafting a legitimate quarterback. But what Houstonians (and baseball fans nationally) have missed is the best team in baseball, one that is, essentially, destroying every team in its path, much like the Yankees who lost three of four games to the Astros this weekend.
The Houston Astros have the best record in baseball at 26-12. The team is running away with the AL West, leading the Rangers, the closest competitor by 7.5 games. The Astros were supposed to contest for the playoffs this season, but there doesn’t really seem to be any contesting involved ...
What Did the Karolyis Know About Gymnastics Abuse at Their Compound?
JOHN ROYAL | MARCH 10, 2017
The Karolyi Camp sits up in the Sam Houston National Forest. That's where legendary gymnastic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi have been training gymnasts for many years, including the past several years, when the camp has been a home of the U.S. National Gymnastics team, including the 2012 and 2016 women's teams.
The Karolyis have long been known for their tough-love training methods. Dominique Moceanu, a gold medalist in 1996, has in years past called these methods physically and mentally abusive. And for her statements, Moceanu claims she has been blackballed and exiled from the gymnastics community. But as the years have passed, it is becoming more and more apparent that it's the Karolyis and not Moceanu who should have been excommunicated ...
USA Gymnastics Has Backed Out Of Buying the Karolyi Ranch
DIANNA WRAY | MAY 18, 2017
When USA Gymnastics announced last summer that the organization would purchase the Karolyi Ranch — the storied facility located in the Sam Houston National Forest just north of Houston where famed gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi have been training female gymnasts for decades, it was a logical decision. Martha Karolyi was about to lead the 2016 U.S. Olympics Gymnastics Team to gold, and then she would join her husband in retirement.
At that point, it looked like the Karolyis – the former Romanian coaches who had defected and then ascended the ranks to coach U.S. gymnasts to Olympic gold – were set to ease into a graceful retirement from the sport, where the legendary couple would preside over the Karolyi Ranch as new flocks of elite gymnasts arrived each year to train on the hallowed ground.
The Karolyis had originally envisioned the facility as a sort of working monument to their contributions to U.S. gymnastics. However, the plans have changed.
In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the gymnastics world, USA Gymnastics, the governing body of the sport in the United States that selects the Olympic team, has pulled out of its agreement to buy the Karolyi Ranch, a move that has left the fate of the ranch, and of the coaches' reputations, in limbo ...
Aaron Hernandez Had Severe CTE. That Should Terrify the NFL.
SEAN PENDERGAST | SEPTEMBER 27, 2017
With the clock winding down to about a minute to go in the AFC Championship Game back in January of 2013, Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez caught a simple pass out in the flat from Tom Brady, turned it up field, broke a tackle and gained 11 yards for a first down. It was garbage time, and the catch was a relatively innocuous play as the Patriots were grinding out the last few moments of a 28-13 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Little did we all know that 11-yard catch would be the last one of Aaron Hernandez’s NFL career, and that minute of football would be the last time he played competitive sports in his life. We were also unaware at that time that Hernandez might have been six months removed from killing two people over a spilled drink at a Boston nightclub (He was acquitted of those murders in April), and six months away from going to prison for the rest of his life for murdering Odin Lloyd.
In retrospect, when you go back and watch it now, for a meaningless play, it’s kind of a heavy 11-yard pass. Now add this in — Aaron Hernandez was playing that game with enough brain damage that he was diagnosed postmortem with Stage III chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or more commonly referred to as CTE ...
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Romo Watch 2017: Is Jerry Jones Scared of the Houston Texans?
SEAN PENDERGAST | MARCH 20, 2017
Congratulations to the Houston Texans, who as of Sunday evening were still the only team in the NFL to have not signed a free agent that was with another team at the end of last season. Meanwhile, they've watched half their starting secondary (A.J. Bouye, Quintin Demps), a starting outside linebacker (John Simon) and a valuable backup on the offensive line (Oday Aboushi) leave for greener pastures. Good times!
The Texans have nearly $30 million in salary cap space to play with, but have thus far chosen to watch the parade go by and let others do the big spending...or all the spending, big and small, really. The Texans only have so many draft picks, so they'll need to spend some money on veterans at some point to backfill these spots.
In the meantime, we wait to see what the quarterback situation will be next season here in Houston. Let's go through this week's Power Rankings of possible solutions at quarterback, in one man's (my) order of preference (not necessarily in order of probability) ...