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Four Thoughts on the Legend-laden Houston Sports Hall of Fame's Class of 2021

Andre Johnson is in the Texans Ring of Honor, and is now in the Houston Sports Hall of Fame.
Andre Johnson is in the Texans Ring of Honor, and is now in the Houston Sports Hall of Fame.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
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One of the really cool additions to our sports landscape here in Houston over the last few years has been the addition of the Houston Sports Hall of Fame, and the annual induction of each year's class, including the bestowing of a ring and a spot on the Walk of Fame in downtown Houston to each inductee. As far as rosters of historical sports figures go, Houston is probably not in the top three or four major metropolitan areas, but it's comfortable in the top eight or ten.

So, now we get to honor and celebrate our past (and maybe be concerned for our future, more on that in a moment) once a year, as a city. That took place this past Friday as the Class of 2020 received their rings and their sidewalk squares — Rockets two time title winning head coach and All Star player Rudy Tomjanovich, Olympic gold medalist gymnast Mary Lou Retton; and Olympic track and field gold medalist legend, Carl Lewis.

Those three were also given the honor of unveiling the Class of 2021, and the star power continues to go through the roof for these classes. Here are the five honorees, per a press release from the Harris County Houston Sports Authority:

Jeff Bagwell
One of the most consistent and well-rounded players of his generation, Baggy spent his entire 15-year career with the Houston Astros, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017. Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the amateur draft as a third baseman in 1989, he was traded the Astros in 1990. They moved him to first base where he earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1991. He set club records, including 449 career home runs, was the unanimous NL MVP in 1994 as well as a four-time All-Star, three Silver Slugger winner and a Gold Glove recipient. A Texas Sports Hall of Fame honoree in 2005, he is only player in MLB history to have six consecutive seasons (1996–2001) with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored, and 100 walks and was just the fifth to achieve 300 home runs, 1,000 RBIs, and 1,000 runs scored in his first 10 seasons. He is one of 12 players in history to hit 400 home runs and record an on-base percentage of .400, and the only first baseman with at least 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases.

Craig Biggio
Hall of Famer who played all 20 seasons for the Astros and is regarded as the greatest all-around player in team history. A seven-time All-Star, Bidge is the player ever to be named an All-Star at both catcher and second base. He was originally called up as catcher but shifted to second base a few years later and played beside Bagwell – the other half of the Astros’ Killer Bs. Biggio went on to win four Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers. He led the National League in doubled three times and holds National League record for most career lead-off home runs in a career with 53. He was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2007 and his No. 7 jersey was retired by the Astros in 2008.

Andre Johnson
Johnson was the first honoree inducted into the Houston Texans’ Ring of Honor. The Texans’ first pick in the 2003 NFL draft – and third pick overall – Johnson was one of the most productive wide receivers in the league during his career. A seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, he led the league twice in both receptions and receiving yards and still holds most of the team’s receiving records. He played his first 11 seasons for the Texans and remains the only player in NFL history to have 60-plus receptions in his first eight seasons and holds or shares four other records. His Texans records include career receptions (1,012), career yards (13,597) and career touchdowns (64).

Guy V. Lewis
Known for those red and white polka dotted towels he always had in his hand and his Phi Slama Jama team of the 1980s, Lewis was the legendary Houston Cougars coach whose teams played above the rim and who, along with Yeoman, was a force in changing the face of intercollegiate athletics in the South when he recruited African Americans Don Chaney and Elvin Hayes in 1964. He took a Hayes-led team to two Final Fours in the 1960s and his Cougars grabbed national attention when, in 1968, they beat UCLA 71-69 in the “Game of the Century” – the first nationally-televised regular season college game. He championed the dunk, a staple of his Phi Slama Jama teams led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler that went to the 1982, 1983 and 1984 Final Fours. Lewis, a center/forward on UH’s first team (1945-46), retired in 1986 leaving a legacy of 27-straight winning seasons, 14 seasons with 20 or more wins, and 14 trips to the NCAA Tournament. He passed away November 26, 2015 at the age of 93.

Bill Yeoman
He was a University of Houston legend — the father of the veer offense and the man who, along with Lewis, helped change the face of major college intercollegiate athletics in the South when he integrated the University of Houston football team in 1964 by recruiting African American running back Warren McVea. Yeoman coached the Cougars to four Southwest Conference Championships and six post- season bowl championships and an overall record of 160-108-8. He played one year at Texas A&M before transferring to West Point where he was a three-year starter at center. After serving three years in the Army, he spent eight seasons as an assistant at Michigan State. He took the UH job in 1962 and coached 46 All-Americans, and 69 players who played in the NFL. He was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away August 12, 2020 at the age of 92.


Ok, some thoughts on this star-laden group:

That is some major star power, but is it almost too much?
This is really an incredible class of Houston sports legends, with two coaches who were probably the greatest in the history of their respective college programs, and three players who each have an argument as the greatest player in the history of their respective franchise. Four of these five are actual Hall of Famers in their sport, and the other one (Johnson) has a decent chance with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I guess, as I start to look at the historical landscape, I start to wonder what the future HOF classes will look like. The following are already IN the Houston Sports HOF — Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jackie Burke, A.J. Foyt, George Foreman, Dan Pastorini, Tomjanovich, Retton, and Lewis. Add the five for 2021, and the pipeline is drying up kind of quickly. There are enough for a few more classes, for sure, but they may need to settle down on five person classes for a bit.

The one theme of this group may not be a pleasant one
Aside from the greatness of the numbers this group piled up on the field, on the gridiron, from the sidelines, I sadly think of postseason failure as one of the albatrosses each has to deal with. Biggio and Bagwell were great regular season players, and unique icons in that they played their entire careers, with almost completely identical chronological footprints, for the same team and ONLY that team. However, they were also the faces of a handful of late '90s Astro teams that disappointed in the postseason. In the three series losses from 1997 to 1999, Bagwell batted .128 and Biggio batted .119. Johnson's eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame discussion will be colored by the fact that, through no fault of his own, he only played in four career postseason games. Guy V. Lewis' most well known postseason performance is a loss as a huge favorite to North Carolina State in 1983. Lewis, in a way, launched Jim Valvano's star into the stratosphere. As for Yeoman, admittedly this might be my Notre Dame degree showing, but I most remember his UH teams for blowing a huge lead to Joe Montana in the Cotton Bowl in 1978. Hey, it is what it is.

This is also a Hall of Fame group whose legacies, ironically, include heated Hall of Fame candidacy discussions
As mentioned above, four of these five inductees are actual members of their one sport's Hall of Fame, but it wasn't easy. Probably the most controversial, hotly debated candidacy for years was that of Lewis for the Basketball Hall of Fame, as he was an innovator on so many levels, but couldn't shake those cataclysmic Final Four performance from his Phi Slama Jama teams. Biggio went into the Baseball Hall of Fame without much heat or fanfare around the sport, but Bagwell took  little longer, due largely to suspicion over his bodily metamorphosis during the steroid era, with no real evidence that he was a steroid abuser. Johnson, the lone non-Hall of Famer in the bunch, will become eligible for Canton next year. He might be waiting a while. I think if he is a Finalist on the first go round, it'll be a huge step.

This is sadly more of a reminder of our current star exodus than a distraction from it
While this was a nice distraction from the sea of drama in which we've been enveloped by current Houston sports teams, just looking at these names can't help but serve as a reminder that, over the last year, we've watched numerous sports figures, whose careers are on track for Houston HOF status, head out of town, for a variety of reasons. A.J. Hinch, Jeff Luhnow, DeAndre Hopkins, James Harden, George Springer, just to name the most prominent. And we are trending in that direction with J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, and possibly Carlos Correa. Even on days that should be all about joy, the drama usurps the stage.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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