Last week we took a look back at 2020 and found nothing to look forward to. Actually, there were so many Bum Steers (to steal a title from Texas Monthly before they steal our selections) that we couldn’t list them all. Today we’ll deal mostly with sports, but there are a few goodies we must not ignore. A water main broke in Houston on Feb. 27, flooding roads and freeways on the east side. The broken pipe, measured at 96 inches, provides 40-50 percent of the city’s water. The COVID-19 virus hit Houston hard. The money-making Offshore Technology Conference was postponed to next fall – maybe — along with a lot of other confabs. The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo was halted in the middle. The rodeo usually opens in March, but the 2021 version is being delayed to May. Dr. Peter Hotez warned: “There’s still going to be a significant level of transmission, so it’s not ideal.” Murders are up sharply this year. Houston police officials expect to surpass 400 by year’s end, compared to 281 murders in 2019. Suspected Russian hackers infiltrated scores of business and government computer networks including the departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Homeland Security’s cyber arm. The gateway to these systems was a company called SolarWinds – from Austin, whose investors sold off millions of dollars in stock shortly before the hack was revealed.
The biggest bump in Houston sports was not all the cancelled games, but the self-inflicted wounds. Let’s start with the Texans. On January 12, they blew a 24-0 lead, and lost 51-31, in a Divisional Round playoff game against the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs scored on eight consecutive possessions, an NFL playoff record, and their comeback is tied for the fourth-largest comeback in NFL playoff history. The record, of course, is the Buffalo Bills’ rally from 32 down against the Oilers. Off season, the Texans traded All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for David Johnson and two draft picks. Hopkins is currently tearing up the NFL. Johnson isn’t.
This season, after a 0-4 start for the first time since 2008, the Texans fired Bill O’Brien as both head coach and general manager. Associate head coach Romeo Crennel was named as interim coach for the rest of the season, with poor results. Veteran corner Bradley Roby and wide receiver Will Fuller were both suspended six games after violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. The highly regarded Amy Palcic was fired as the team’s vice president of communications. Thus far, the Texans are 135-165 all-time without an AFC Championship appearance since the NFL returned to Houston in 2002. One sports writer reported about the Texans: “That NFL team is now the laughingstock of the league.”
The Houston Rockets are in competition to be a laughingstock. 2020 found the franchise in utter turmoil. Like the Texans, the Rockets had a change in leadership when Mike D’Antoni, coach for the last four years with 318 games, quit. D’Antoni had finished with a combined 227-102 record in four seasons with the Rockets. He was immediately hired by the Brooklyn Nets as an assistant coach. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith wrote: “(t)his man is a master of departing jobs right when he knows he’s gonna get fired.”
The Rockets also had to find a new general manager after Daryl Morey left for the Philadelphia 76ers. Morey said he left on his own accord, a little over a year after sparking a major rift between the NBA and Chinese government. Nine-time NBA all-star Russell Westbrook, unhappy with playing in Houston, left for the Washington Wizards after one season. James Harden expressed his desire to also leave. He was a hold-out at the beginning of the season. The only good news was that, 15 years after first making the ballot, former Rockets player and coach Rudy Tomjanovich was finally named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
This, unfortunately, brings us to the Houston Astros. The very next day after the Texans blew their significant lead over the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston sports fans were themselves blown away when Major League Baseball accused the Astros of cheating. Briefly, at home games the Astros were found guilty of using a camera in center field to take a live video feed of the opposing catcher’s sign to the pitcher. That video was then communicated to a TV monitor near the Astros’ dugout, where a teammate or staff member would alert the hitter as to what pitch was coming, by banging – or not banging — on a trash can in the tunnel near the dugout. This gave a whole new meaning to the sports term “trash talk.” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for a year by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. A day later, Astros owner Jim Crane fired them. The franchise also was stripped of its first- and second-round picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined $5 million. (Incidentally, there is a movement to change the mascot from Orbit to Cheetah.)
Well, the scandal hit the fans and the media. Alex Cora, manager of the Boston Red Sox and Carlos Beltran, the newly minted manager (three months) of the Mets got fired, too, for their involvement back when they were Astros. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Astros in the 2017 World Series, and the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted that the Dodgers be declared the true champions in 2017 and 2018. When asked if the Astros’ 2017 World Series championship should be put down in the record books as not exactly fair, Manfred referred to the championship trophy as “a piece of metal.” He backtracked faster than a runner caught in a run-down between third base and home plate.
Finally in sports, how to chap off Texan fans, those who are left: Whataburger, the iconic, Texas-born hamburger chain is now the “Official Burger of the Dallas Cowboys.”
Ashby cheers at email@example.com