By Paul Muth
2017 was spectacular for every Houston sports fan with a pulse. It had something for everyone. It paid homage. It rewarded patience. It inspired. It captivated.
In all honesty, it actually took me a minute to realize just how insane this calendar year was for Houston sports. There were so many individually great moments that the thought of taking a step back and assessing the year as a whole never crossed my mind until now. As one does, typically…
…at the end of a year.
Whatever, I’m doing it now, and that’s what matters.
When I started considering the idea of writing this, I assumed it would be easy to come up with a few moments, toss them in a list and call it a day. But as I brainstormed, I realized just how many great moments there were since January 1 and I couldn’t in good conscience whittle the list down.
Poetic, it seems, that the number landed on 17. So, without further ado, I present the top 17 moments of 2017.
Ok, some ado. Here are the honorable mentions:
Honorable Mention: James Harden’s 50 point triple-double
Honorable Mention 2: Trading Brock Osweiler
Ok, to the list:
17) Drafting Deshaun Watson
I know this is going to sound weird, but we all need to take a step back as a city and collectively thank Mr. Antonio Ramiro Romo (his friends call him “Tony”). See, for a moment there Romo was interested in becoming a Texan after being relegated to the bench courtesy of a back injury and one Rayne Dakota Prescott (his friends call him “Dak”). Rumors swirled as to whether the Cowboys would trade their veteran QB. As suitors lined up, Romo fired a suggestive wink at the Texans. That was enough to unceremoniously jettison Texans’ starting QB, Brock Alan Osweiler (his friends call him bad), off to the football elephant graveyard that is Cleveland. The idea was that the move would free up the cap space needed for a potential run at acquiring Romo. When the Cowboys decided they would do Cowboy things and refused to trade their previous face of the franchise, Romo took his toys and retired, leaving the Texans looking like a bunch of quarterback-less dummies.
The Texans were desperate. By all accounts, they had practically everything needed for a great team except a QB. After the Romo debacle, the fans were irate. The front office knew they had to do something, and after smiling and nodding at the wasteland that was the 2017 free agent QB class (or any year for that matter, really), they pulled the trigger in the first round on a quarterback for the first time since taking David Carr in 2002. Enter Derrick Deshaun Watson.
His friends call him Deshaun.
In what was unfortunately an abbreviated rookie campaign, Watson dazzled. For a Texans fan base that would have been happy with competence, he displayed brilliance. Fans have already tabbed him the savior of the team, and a quick google search turns up YouTube highlight montages so dramatic, you would have thought he had won Houston three Super Bowls in one year. Still, the arrival of Watson alone signaled a commitment from a Texans front office that has often been criticized for complacency.
And it’s all thanks to Tony.
16) Tracy McGrady’s induction into the Hall of Fame
For six seasons the sleepy-eyed assassin provided Houston fans with one of the most effortless looking scoring options in the NBA. Throughout his career, McGrady was a two-time (back to back) scoring champ, a seven-time all-star, and for 14 seasons T-Mac built a hall of fame resume. Ironic then it seems, that quite possibly his biggest resume bullet would only take 35 seconds of his career to create. If you’re a Rockets fan, you probably already know of the legend simply regarded as “13 in 35.” For the uninformed, I submit the following for review.
In September McGrady joined fellow teammate Yao Ming in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and it came at a time post-Harvey when Houston desperately needed a feel good story.
15) Yao Ming’s Jersey Retirement
On Friday, February 3rd, former Rocket and Hall of Famer Yao Ming’s number eleven jersey was officially retired. A 7’6” center from China, Yao was the number one draft pick in 2002 and played seven seasons for the Rockets before a foot injury ended his career. If you were too young to enjoy some sweet, sweet Yao action, or you’re one of the critics who claims he didn’t deserve enshrinement, don’t worry. I’ve got you.
Yao’s ceremony was a brief halftime affair on the Friday of Super Bowl weekend against the Chicago Bulls (James Harden would honor Yao by dropping 42 points in and overtime victory). Able only to communicate through a translator upon his arrival to Houston 15 years ago, Yao stood center court and confidently delivered a thoughtful speech with his trademark wit to the sold-out crowd. He thanked the fans, and reflected upon his career. The highlight of his speech came when he presented an anecdote about his rookie year, when his teammates attempted to help the rookie feel more at home by presenting him with Chinese New Year gifts. One of the gifts was a red envelope, sarcastically filled with two dollars.
“I still have one of those two dollar bills inside my pocket, and I carried it since then,” Yao explained. “Because I know no matter where I go, as long as that bill’s in my pocket, home is with me.”
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
14) Astros comeback versus Twins
I know what you’re thinking. What’s a regular season game in May doing on this list? In fact, everyone that vetted my list said that I was dumb for adding this. My response?
“Shut up. You’re dumb, you…dummy.”
See here’s the deal. Ervin Santana had pitched a gem for the Twins and handed the ball off in the seventh inning with a comfortable 8-2 lead. I had turned the game off by this time and was listening to it on the radio when the impossible happened.
Here’s a look at the scoring plays from the top of the eighth:
- Correa singled to right, Reddick scored, Altuve to third. 3-8, Twins.
- Marwin Gonzales singled to left, Altuve Scored, Correa Scored. Beltran to second. 5-8 Twins.
- Gattis grounded into fielder’s choice, Beltran scored, Gonzales to third, Bregman out.
So now it’s 6-8, Twins lead, two outs. Good try, boys.
- Springer singled to left, Gonzales scored, Marisnick to second. 7-8, Twins.
- Reddick doubled to center, Marisnick scored. Springer scored.
The Astros had now taken a 9-8 lead.
- Altuve singled to right. Reddick scored. 10-8, Astros.
Now we have a cushion?!
- Beltran homered to right on 2-2 count. Altuve scored. Correa Scored.
Sure, why not. Let’s enter the inning down 6 runs and exit up 5. Just another day at the office, eh?
Then, just for good measure, the Astros tacked 3 more runs on in the ninth and left the ballpark with a 16-8 victory. I was left to repair a melted brain.
The significance of that game—and the reason it made this list—was two-fold. First off, the Astros completed one of the most historic comebacks in the history of the franchise. Leading up to that game, the Astros were 0-659 throughout their 56-year history in games where they trailed by six or more runs going into the eighth inning.
Second, and more importantly, this was a statement game to the rest of the league. May 29th was when the rest of the league realized that the Astros then-league leading record was no fluke. This was a team that, as Richard Justice put it “[won] the most improbable game in a season that’s starting to have an improbable feel.”
13) James Harden drops 56
It was a last minute decision between my friend and I to go to my first game of the season, and it certainly did not disappoint. The Rockets were playing at home against the Jazz and I justified it two separate ways:
- A friend of mine is notorious for buying tickets to every Jazz game, dressing up like John Stockton (to include the short shorts and a trading card cutout he had made to frame himself with), sitting behind the Rockets bench, and mercilessly heckling them. The Rockets are 1-4 when Fake Stockton shows. I had to go to regain balance in the universe.
- It was a Jazz game, so resale tickets were dirt cheap.
We arrived just after tip-off and James Harden immediately set to work painting a basketball masterpiece. The Beard would go 19-25 from the field, 7-8 from beyond the arc, and 11-12 from the free throw line. It was as if he was shooting baseballs in a dumpster.
Harden finished with 56 points and 13 assists, accounting for 91 total points that night. For perspective, 54 of his points were scored before the fourth quarter. It was the third highest total of points scored or assisted on in NBA history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain. Harden also holds the second highest total.
My explanation for Harden’s prolific performance is simple and irrefutable. You see, I had brought a ton of positive energy, in addition to my buddy–who is apparently Houston’s sports good luck charm–to balance out Fake Stockton. Turns out, Fake Stockton was sick, missed the game, and our good luck supercharged Harden. This is all science. The Jazz never had a chance, and I taunted Fake Stockton from his deathbed with pictures of the scoreboard.
12) Andre Johnson comes home
Let’s go ahead and get one thing out of the way: Andre Johnson is the greatest player in Texans history. When the seven-time pro bowler announced his retirement, he had accumulated 1062 receptions for 14185 yards and 70 touchdowns. His receptions and yardage totals are both the 11th most in NFL history, and all of this was achieved despite all of those seasons the Texans had used a garbage can with a jersey stapled to it for a quarterback.
Johnson was a prototype wide receiver that was built like a tight end. He was a combination of lightning-quick reflexes, speed, and brute strength; and all of that came together in my favorite Andre Johnson touchdown ever— His touchdown catch against the Arizona Cardinals in which he shrugged off a direct hit kill shot and carried defenders into the end zone was reminiscent of Earl Campbell…if Campbell knew how to catch, that is.
Johnson left the Texans on a bit of a sour note in 2015 over a disagreement about how he would be utilized in the offense going forward. He bounced around the AFC South for two more seasons before announcing his retirement in 2016. When it was announced that he would be signing a one-day contract to retire a Texan, Houston fans all breathed a collective sigh of relief. No one here wanted to see Johnson go out in a Colts or Titans uniform.
On November 19, 2017, Andre Johnson was inducted into the Houston Texans Ring of Honor. The Houston Texans Ring of Honor’s roster now stands at one, and there was never a doubt in anyone’s mind who its first member would be.
11) Jeff Bagwell inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame
When you’re growing up as a kid, you don’t always know why players are good. You just hear adults say the names enough and you parrot them. For example, I had an Olajuwon jersey when I was seven. I didn’t know why he was good, but I knew everyone else thought he was, so that’s the jersey I wanted.
The baseball equivalent to that for me growing up was Jeff Bagwell. Well before I got into the sport, I was aware that Jeff Bagwell was not only one of the best on the Astros, but for over a decade was one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball. He was the Astros first Rookie of the Year winner, its first MVP recipient, and most likely led to an entire generation of awkward-looking deep squatting batting stances.
Bagwell was one of only six players in MLB History to have seven or more seasons with 30 home runs and 100 walks. He finished his career with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs.
The Astros honored Bagwell’s induction at Minute MAid Park on August 5th. I arrived at the ballpark 2 hours before the gates opened in order to get my commemorative Bagwell ‘batting stance’ Hall of Fame bobble head, because that’s a thing that a 30-year-old man should prioritize. When they honored him just before the game, a video montage featuring some of the biggest names in baseball along with longtime teammates commemorated the quiet first baseman. I may or may not have gotten misty. In total, I spent 7 hours at the ballpark that day.
Editor’s note: Paul Muth is an Army vet who tends to talk a lot, so when his friends tell him to stop, he either writes or talks to a microphone and calls it a podcast. He writes better with a beard and looks better with a beer. Or something like that. Follow him on twitter at @abumnamedpaul