Falcon Points

Year in review: The top 5 Houston athletes for 2019

Each year the Houston Sports Authority does a variety of sports awards and honors the winners at a gala the next year. The biggest award is the athlete of the year award.

This year, the five finalists are Simone Biles, Alex Bregman, Deshaun Watson, James Harden and Justin Verlander. While Biles individual accomplishments are amazing (more on that in a moment), success at the highest level of team competition might be one of the most difficult accomplishments in sports. For our top five, we looked at overall accomplishments relative to competition, postseason success, awards and accomplishments. With that in mind, here are the top five in Houston sports for 2019:

5) DeAndre Hopkins

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans

While many would argue for Deshaun Watson as the Texans representative on the list, with all due respect to Watson, Hopkins deserves the spot. He is second in the league in receptions, sixth in yards, and remains one of the three best receivers in the game. While you can make an argument that Watson is a top five QB, there is no argument about Hopkins. His postseason performance keeps him lower on the list.

4) Alex Bregman

Astros Alex Bregman Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The straw that stirs the Astros potent offense, Bregman was second in the AL MVP voting and his strong finish helped the Astros to the best record in baseball. He hit .296 with 41 homers, 112 RBI, 119 walks and struck out just 83 times. He has improved every year and there could easily be an MVP in his future.

3) Gerrit Cole

Yes, he is a Yankee now, but this is for 2019, and Houston fans should appreciate what he did. A 20-5 record, 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts got him oh so close to a Cy Young Award. He had one off start in the postseason, but otherwise he was a monster. Just because he is gone, his accomplishments should not be forgotten.

2) James Harden

While the narrative about postseason struggles is more than fair, Harden plays at an MVP level every year. He just missed out on that award last season, and he is on an incredible scoring pace this year, averaging a ridiculous 38.9 points per game. Simply one of the best offensive weapons in basketball and a threat for the No. 1 spot on this list year in and year out.

1) Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Yes, he struggled in the World Series. But the Astros don't get that far without the Cy Young winner. He went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and a no-hitter. In his 15th year in the league, Verlander was the best pitcher in the AL by a narrow margin over Cole. He is a future Hall of Famer who is still pitching at a high level at the age of 36, and he is worth the price of admission every night. He is truly a baseball treasure.

Just missing out

Oakland Raiders v Houston Texans

There are many who will make a case for Simone Biles, and what she has accomplished is amazing. However, sports that are won solely on judging (gymnastics, figure skating, diving, etc.) can not be judged at the same level as sports that are determined by actual competition against other human beings. In short, no one plays defense in gymnastics. (And no, don't insert your Harden joke here). Those sports are all athletic, but they are more competition than sports. So she does not make our list.

Deshaun Watson would get the No. 6 spot. He will have a chance to rectify it this year, but his abysmal playoff performance against the Colts lessened his accomplishments. Is he a top five quarterback? Maybe. Certainly top 10. But that is not enough to get him on this list.

My friends are degenerates
But I'd never change them
Liars, cheats, and hypocrites
Not the type for saving

- A Day To Remember

If you listen to the Blitz, that is the second hour intro. And if you have been paying attention to Houston sports this week, you know it has been filled with liars, cheats and hypocrites. Many have said it was the worst 24 hours in Houston sports history. From a national attention standpoint, it might be the best, because finally the rest of the nation has noticed the sports scene here.

For years, Houston sports fan has chafed that their teams don't get enough attention from the national media.

They are getting plenty of attention now. Congrats, Houston, this is what your sports teams are known for after one of the most bizarre weeks in Houston sports history.

The liars

University of Houston quarterback D'Eriq King made the odd decision to red shirt after four games, with the presumption he would return in 2020. He constantly repeated that he would be back. On Tuesday night, clearly hoping to avoid the spotlight, he announced during the national championship game his intent to transfer.

He insisted he was staying several times, despite rumors that turned out to be true that he never had any intention of returning. It was a bad look for coach Dana Holgorsen, who banked his 2020 season on King, and a worse look for King, who could have just said "as of now, I am planning on staying." Instead he was intentionally misleading.

And the national media noticed. Even though it happened during the championship game, the story made the front page of ESPN.com, and it mentioned all the times King said he was staying. It was a subtle way of highlighting the lies.

It was a bad look for everyone, and closed out a rough day for Houston sports fan.

The earlier news, of course, was The Big Lie.

The cheats

Well, that's easy. The Astros were hit with a loss of draft picks, a fine, and year-long suspensions for their manager and GM.

Shortly thereafter, owner Jim Crane fired GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. Major league baseball's discoveries were damning.

There is no doubt the Astros cheated. It's hard to believe that everyone in the organization did not know. But the statement exonerated Crane. We can debate if the punishment was enough, but lost in all of it was that it was a "player-driven" scheme. MLB chose not to punish the players, presumably since there is nothing in the collective bargaining agreement to allow it. Regardless, it leaves a lot of questions. Which players? All of them? Just the stars?

Make no mistake, this has been a major national story from the beginning. It dominated talk and headlines on Monday, even in the wake of NFL playoffs and the college championship. The national opinion? The Astros are cheaters and should have been punished more. If you are a fan, you likely don't care. Or you blame the whistleblower. But the nation has a different opinion. If the team struggles in 2020, you can bet the narrative will be that they can't win without cheating. This one isn't going away. But the controversy let someone else off the hook...

The hypocrites

Rest assured, no one was happier to see the Astros announcements than Bill O'Brien, whose epic, historic collapse in Kansas City was swept to the back pages. His inane comments that "we are headed in the right direction" went without being called out. His poor decisions went unnoticed. His inability to look at his organization and recognize change is needed was lost.

We have been saying that in Houston for years. But after his flaws were exposed to a national audience, finally the rest of the world realizes he is in over his head. Several national outlets said he should be fired.

O'Brien said again he won't hire a GM. He said that defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is expected to return next year despite two years of terrible defense. His complete power over the organization makes it clear meaningful change is not coming. We get that O'Brien is not going anywhere, but his stubborn reliance on yes men and cronies and refusal to bring in a legitimate offensive coordinator or replace Crennel means there is no hope for the franchise to take the next step. Sometimes you need new voices. O'Brien's just gets louder and louder and drowns out everyone else's.

Since he became coach, the other three teams in the AFC South have made the AFC Championship Game. The Texans are the only team to fail to do that. Yet they are going in the right direction, according to O'Brien.

What does it all mean? 

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.

The reality is this has been going on for decades. Baseball in particular is a sport that welcomes cheating. Athletes and teams have been lying to you for years. Speaking of hypocrites, if you ripped the Patriots but defend the Astros? The bottom line is fans love to turn a blind eye. And that's just fine. But pretending this isn't a reality is naive.

As fans, you want to believe you are rooting for good people. You wear their jerseys. But the reality is when that much money is on the line, people are going to do whatever they can outside the rules. Maybe it is overly cynical, but the truth is most of them grew up in a culture of cheating and taking short cuts and trying not to get caught. Should we act surprised when they do? Bad people exist in all walks of life. Money attracts more of them.

There is a LOT of money in sports.

And to think it is just Houston is silly. Players like Cody Bellinger saying the Dodgers did things the "right way" might want to hold off. More will come out, and you look even worse when you say stuff like that and your team is the next one.

That leaves Houston fans to just embrace and accept reality. And before you say, "this is harsh and unfair..." is there anything in here that is not true?

Oh, and enjoy the 2017 World Series, because at this rate, that is all you will be able to hang your hat on.

But at least the national media notices you now.

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