Well, I said I was unlikely to post again until after the wedding, but then last Sunday and Monday Houston had to go and have the worst 48 hours in its (already generally miserable) sports history.
First, the Texans
The Texans authored their own galling chapter in Houston’s tortured NFL history Sunday, blowing a 24-point lead en route to a 51-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC divisional-round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
With roughly 40 minutes to go and a 24-0 lead, the Texans seemed primed to host the AFC Championship Game next week in Houston’s first visit to the NFL’s final four since the Oilers did it 40 years ago.
Instead, the city’s long-suffering football fans were given another crushing defeat to bookend the 1992 AFC wild-card game in which the Oilers blew a 35-3 second-half lead and lost 41-38 in overtime at Buffalo. Sunday's Chiefs comeback tied for the fourth-biggest in NFL postseason history. The Chiefs also became the first team to win a playoff game by 20 or more points after trailing by 20-plus points.
There was a time when such a miserable, choking performance would have sent me into an obscenity-shouting, fist-pounding, chair-throwing, door-slamming rage. But I could only laugh as I watched Sunday afternoon's meltdown. In fact, I could see it coming as soon as the Texans, just one minute after having gone up 24-0, allowed the Chiefs to score the first of what would turn out to be six consecutive touchdowns.
Much, if not all, of the blame for this loss is rightfully being placed at the feet of head coach Bill O'Brien. He's the one who made stupid in-game decisions (e.g. not going for it from fourth-and-a-foot at Kansas City's 13, but later attempting a ridiculous fake punt on fourth-and-four from Houston's own 31), he's the one who failed to refocus the team or otherwise make adjustments at halftime when the Texans were reeling from 28 unanswered Chiefs points, and he's the one who continues to employ the ineffective fossil Romeo Crennel as his defensive coordinator. (He's also, in addition to being the head coach, the team's de-facto general manager.) The buck stops with Bill O'Brien.
Alas, last Sunday's epic chokejob - once again, I need to update my list
- is just another example of O'Brien's ceiling: "the most easily identifiable ceiling of any head coach in the NFL."
He will never lead this team to an AFC Championship Game, let alone the Super Bowl. He's simply not good enough. As long as he's at the helm, massive letdowns like last Sunday's are going to be the rule.
While the obvious solution would be for O'Brien to be let go
, that's not going to happen. As long as he keeps winning the AFC South, as long as he gets the Texans to the postseason, as long as Texans fans continue to pack NRG Stadium and buy their merchandise and make the McNair family money, he isn't going anywhere. Even if he did, it probably wouldn't make much of a difference as long as its fanbase continues to accept
the franchise's culture of paralyzing mediocrity:
As a big time fan of this woebegone organization you have a right, even a responsibility, to demand better; not just with your voices but with your wallets. Next time you fill up the call-in lines of local sports to talk about the depth at offensive line, consider the alternatives. Maybe if the only fans who showed up to Texans games were wearing bags like they used to do at the Astrodome for the Oilers, the message will finally get through to the people who make the decisions. Maybe it will convince them enough is enough.
I really feel bad for guys like J. J. Watt, who really deserve better than to see their entire careers be wasted because they were stuck with the Houston Texans.
Then, the Astros
Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday shortly after Major League Baseball announced the pair would be suspended for a year as part of the penalties for the investigation into alleged electronic-sign stealing.
"Today is a very difficult day for the Houston Astros," Astros owner Jim Crane said in a press conference Monday. "MLB did a very thorough investigation and the Astros fully cooperated and we accept their decisions and findings and penalties."
The franchise also was stripped of its first- and second-round picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined $5 million.
MLB's report detailed the Astros' efforts to steal signs in 2017 and laid out the punishment handed down to the Astros. Crane opted to go a step further.
"I have higher standards for the city and the franchise," Crane said.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred determined that the Astros were using cameras to spy upon and decipher opponents' pitching signs during the 2017 season - the season they won the World Series - and then relaying pitch information to batters by banging on a trash can in the dugout. The full statement on his investigation into the sign-stealing scheme is here
. Key quote:
Some Astros players told my investigators that they did not believe the sign-stealing scheme was effective, and it was more distracting than useful to hitters. I am neither in a position to evaluate whether the scheme helped Astros hitters (who were unquestionably a very talented group), nor whether it helped the Astros win any games. There are so many factors that impact the outcome of games that addressing that issue would require rank speculation. But for purposes of my decision, regardless of whether the scheme was effective or not, it violated the rules and, at a minimum, created the appearance of unfairness, and for that, it necessitates severe discipline.
Even though we don't know if the Astros truly benefitted from the scheme, the simple fact that they cheated nevertheless casts a pall over their 2017 World Series title that will never be erased. Astros fans such as Chris Kyle rightfully feel betrayed:
This whole scandal has been akin to a crisis of faith for me. It has literally changed my behavior. I have made the conscious decision not to wear my 2017 World Series champs sweatshirt into public because I don’t want to get razzed for it, especially not when in the company of 6-year-old daughter. I can only imagine how much worse this situation would be if she were actually interested in baseball and I had to explain the cheating scandal to her directly. As it is, I no longer encourage her to wear her Astros shirts or cap to school like I used to.
This betrayal, furthermore, extends beyond Astros fans themselves and affects an entire city - one which was recovering from Hurricane Harvey when the Astros won that now-asterisked title - as Jeff Balke explains
Now, in a scandal some are mentioning in the same breath with the Black Sox, the Astros have forever tainted their 2017 World Series win. That's reality. You may as well accept that is going to be the opinion of virtually everyone, including some Astros fans. The same fate likely awaits the Boston Red Sox and their 2018 title, but they have other championships to fall back on. We don't. While the Astros didn't have their championship vacated, the luster on that trophy is forever smudged.
And Houston suffers.
I myself had a magical experience
from that 2017 World Series, one that feels much less magical today than it did just a few days ago. I'm very disappointed in this team, and while I'm not prepared to say I'm no longer an Astros fan - that's not something that you can just discard after fortysomething years - I can't say I'm particularly enthused about them right now, either. I'm pretty sure I'm the only fan who feels this way, and I think there are going to be a lot of empty seats at Minute Maid this summer, regardless of how many games the Astros win.
The sign-stealing scandal also cost the jobs of Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran - a pitching coach and a player on the 2017 Astros team, respectively, who were specifically implicated by Manfred for their role in the scheme. There are also conspiracy theories regarding the Astros using electronic devices to cheat in 2019
, even though the MLB investigation found no evidence that the Astros were engaged in illegal activity after the 2018 season. But this is to be expected: if you cheat once, you're considered a cheater forever.
And finally, the Cougars
University of Houston quarterback D’Eriq King announced Monday night that he plans to enter the transfer portal.
“I think it’s best for me and my family,” King wrote on Twitter.
King announced Sept. 23 that he would take advantage of the NCAA’s four-game redshirt rule with the intention to return to UH for the 2020 season.
A source said King has been on campus several times in the past week and participated in team activities upon returning for the spring semester. Classes resumed Monday.
King did not list potential destinations, although there has been speculation he could transfer to Miami or rejoin former UH offensive coordinator Kendal Briles at Arkansas.
To be sure, I anticipated that this would happen from the moment he announced that he would sit out the rest of the 2019 season
. I nevertheless held out hope that he would stick around, and am annoyed with his dishonesty in the matter: by insinuating that he was going to stick around for 2020 and that reports of him transferring were "fake news," he misled his fellow players as well as his coaches.
Ryan Monceaux reports that the redshirt ruse may have been orchestrated by D'Eriq's father
Now that King has decided to leave, GoCoogs can reveal information we’ve known since that time: the “plan” to redshirt King did not originate with Dana Holgorsen nor was it first discussed on the day after the Tulane game. The plan originated with Eric King himself.
According to two sources, Eric King contacted UH AD Chris Pezman in the days before the Tulane game to inform him that if UH lost to Tulane, D’Eriq would “shut it down” and redshirt the rest of the season. One of our sources insisted we not release the info unless King decided to enter the portal.
D'Eriq King might not have been the best quarterback to put on a UH jersey, and he might not have been the best fit for Dana Holgorsen's offense. But he was definitely the most athletic quarterback on the UH roster and the 2020 UH offense would certainly have been better with him on it. Dana Holgorsen and his Cougars now face what will be a very tough 2020 season with a huge question mark behind center.
Fred Faour says that these three developments have revealed Houston's sports identity to the nation as one featuring "liars, cheats and hypocrites:"
The city's teams are finally getting national run. Whether or not it is for good reasons in immaterial. Houston is in the national spotlight. If you are a fan, all you can do is embrace the liars, cheats and hypocrites, and roll with it. And wait for the Rockets to find a way to make news.
You mean the same Rockets who dropped back-to-back games this week? Like I said: it's tough being a Houston sports fan.
But there's always hope for the future: maybe the Roughnecks
will make us all feel better!