Last week, I did my regular Monday morning sports segment on Houston Matters (KUHF 88.7 FM). But, before my spot, I joined a panel of enthusiasts to discuss the most important moments in Houston sports history. Given that long, storied and often depressing legacy, it shouldn't come as a surprise to long-suffering Houston sports fans that three of my moments were negative.
None of them, however, were from this past week because I put them down on paper prior to what became one of the roughest weeks for sports the city has seen in some time.
First, the Texans, who were up 24-0 in the first quarter, lost after the Chiefs outscored them 51-7 over the next three. Then, the Astros sign stealing scandal came to a very marked end with suspensions, firings and continued recriminations from across a league wrought with new accusations of cheating.
Finally, and almost anticlimactically, the Rockets went 0-3, including two losses against teams below .500 and one missing its second best player.
Yeah, it was rough. But there were winners, hard as it might be to believe. And, of course, losers.
Bill O'Brien/William O'Brien
My colleague Sean Pendergast has brilliantly designated the alter egos for the Texans coach and GM as Bill (coach) and William (GM) O'Brien. For both, this week went from disaster to win in the span of 24 hours. After coughing up one of the worst losses in Houston football history (and certainly Texans history), it seemed an almost foregone conclusion that there would be questions about his power and status with his team even though many who have watched the McNair-owned organization repeatedly overlook pitiful performances by this and previous regimes. Surely, something would happen. Turns out, not so much. And within 24 hours, the news was dominated by the Astros and cheating. If Bill (and William) O'Brien isn't leading a charmed life, I'm not sure who is.
The Rockets Aren't Contenders Narrative
As good as the Rockets have been at times this year, they just don't quite feel like the team they were over the last two seasons. Outsiders might want to blame James Harden and Russell Westbrook, but the truth is that a lackluster supporting cast and a much more spread out and competitive league are more to blame. Whatever the case, it came to a head this week with losses to a surging, but still mediocre, Grizzlies team, followed by a worse fall to Portland, and capped with a come-from-behind loss at home to the Lakers without Anthony Davis. Those who think the Rockets just aren't that good seemed to now have more proof.
Soccer anyone? Anyone???
When the ax fell on A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow, owner Jim Crane said he wanted a clean slate. But as rumors and reports continued to swirl, it became clear that at least some of the players were involved to an even greater degree than the staff. Whether they wore secret buzzers or simply took advantage of clanging garbage cans, some certainly benefitted from what cost the team's leaders their jobs. There will be plenty of "no comment" quotes as spring training approaches, which is understandable. But if the Astros players — and other players from around the league, for whom new allegations emerge seemingly every day — manage to escape any punishment, that's a huge stroke of luck for them (and, let's be honest, for fans who don't want the team to suck).
I have spoken to a few people with the organization over the recent weeks and the impression is they are exhausted more than anything. In the wake of one of the biggest scandals in baseball history, they have to keep doing their jobs, wondering what will happen to their organization and dealing with the fallout. How many times are Minute Maid vendors and ticket sales people getting asked by friends and family members about the scandal? It has to be a lot making an already difficult job even tougher.
Texans Staff Not Named O'Brien
If you were hoping for big names to be on the chopping block over on Kirby Drive, you're likely disappointed by what you've seen the past few days. The only two firings have been linebackers coach John Pagano and interim general manager Chris Olsen. Not only have big names not found themselves out of jobs, but the firing of Olsen appears to be a way for O'Brien to concentrate even more power under his purview. If you are anyone not named O'Brien and work for the Texans, you may want to clean up that resume.
Anyone Who Bet on Mike D'Antoni Getting a New Contract
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There's still a lot of season left, but fans continue to clamor for a change at the top, and D'Antoni is going to bear the brunt of that criticism, especially if another playoff failure looms. With a serious luxury tax bill on the horizon and not nearly enough to show for it, owner Tillman Fertitta is bound to lose patience sooner rather than later. With the added pressure of GM Daryl Morey's China backlash compounding matters, anything short of a title seems like a clear end for the coach who has no contract beyond this season. And, if things don't turn around fast, Morey might be next.
Texans fans are their own worst enemy. They continue to support a substandard franchise despite everything they have seen on the field. Rockets fans still have a solid core of talent and half a season ahead. But, for fans of the Astros, I just keep thinking of a line from The Birdcage: "How do you think I feel, bewildered, betrayed?" They must face the fact that the team they love cheated. It may or may not have been a factor in winning a World Series, but the stain on the franchise is real and will remain for future generations of fans. It must leave a bitter taste in their mouths and will cause many to question their very fandom. Even a great season will be tempered by the fact that players on the current roster were part of the 2017 squad. It will take years to recover.
I think I just found a new No. 1 for the most important moments in sports history and it ain't a good one.