Catching Up

5 quick thoughts on the current state of Houston sports

Rockets.com

June is usually when most of us take time off, because that is when things slow down in the sports world. After two weeks off, I returned to find I missed out on quite a bit. After a week in Vegas for the WSOP and another in Canada for some R & R, it's time to catch up on some big topics:


1) The Canada Curse is real

Blame me for the Astros seven game losing streak. Every time I am out of the country, everything goes to hell. The Texans record when I am in Canada? They are 0-3. The Astros did not win a game while I was there. I think it is time for the fan bases to take up a collection to make sure I go when none of the local teams are playing.

2) Despite that losing streak...

Yordan Alvarez might be one of the most exciting prospects the Astros have had since...Carlos Correa? Alex Bregman? He has not missed a beat since coming up from Triple-A, where he was putting up MVP like numbers. He has a smooth, powerful swing, and the scary part is he is only 21 years old. Yes, teams will figure him out at some point and he will have to adjust, but if he is anything close to what he has shown? The Astros will have yet another star. As for the losing streak? These are going to happen in a long season. The Astros are getting healthy again, and at some point adding a third top-line starter will have them back in the mix for another World Series title.

3) Shakeup in the AAC and how it impacts UH

UConn is going to return to the Big East, primarily because of travel and the fact that the school is focused primarily on basketball. The future of its football program is up in the air. What does it mean for UH and the AAC? It's probably a good thing. UConn basketball has fallen off the face of the earth, and the once-proud program offers little to the AAC. The football program, also once on the cusp of success, has been in a tailspin. It would not take much in the way of a program to be an upgrade for the conference. But sticking with 11 would not be the worst thing in the world, either. It would mean a bigger split for the remaining schools, and is there really a program out there that would move the needle? BYU? Sure, but they seem happy as independents. Boise? Success, but offers little in the way of a TV market and travel is an issue. Maybe Air Force or Army, but beyond that, there really is not a program that adds much. Buffalo out of the MAC is on the rise, and might be worth a look, but the conference might be better off at 11. The addition of Wichita State in basketball was a good trade-up from UConn and this might be a case of addition by subtraction.

4) Rockets dead stare

There's a beef between James Harden and Chris Paul. There's not a beef between Harden and Paul. The coach is upset. The coach isn't upset. Who knows what is going on with the Rockets? This team is close, and the Warriors are set to take a step back. But what if the Clippers sign Khawi Leonard? The Lakers have made moves, but they are still a mess, so who knows. The Rockets have to be chafing at the fact that the Toronto Raptors were able to go all in and win the title. Chris Paul's onerous contract will be tough to work around, but they should be adding, not subtracting. One more try with this group would not be a bad thing. But they need some stability, and nothing they are doing right now screams that. At least the Texans have taken some of the heat off...

5) Oh my, Texans

The Texans have become an absolute mess. No GM? No problem, right? Bill O'Brien is on the case. O'Brien is a good coach. But so far, he has not shown himself to be a great one. Or even a very good one. Now he is head coach, de facto OC and GM? While it's a leap to say all the firings were racially motivated, the more likely scenario is O'Brien just wanted "his guys." At worst it is a bad look. So he is basically reading from the Bill Belichick playbook. We have seen this before. The problem is, O'Brien is not Belichick. Neither likes to be questioned by the media or anyone else. The best managers have a combination of people underneath them who understand the vision and goals, and others who will challenge those. Most organizations in the NFL don't like the latter. O'Brien is a perfect example of this. The good news is we will now know how to blame. If it works? O'Brien looks like a genius. But if it spirals out of control - which is a real possibility - there will be no one else responsible. The Texans have been the picture of stability to a fault. Now they seem to be falling part at the seams. Here is hoping it all works out. But skepticism is warranted.

The wrap-up

Honestly, things are not that bad. Thank goodness for the Astros, who are run like a model franchise, and UH athletics, which seems to be in a really good place. The Rockets should be fine, once they sit back and realize that adding a couple key pieces could make all the difference in the world. As for the Texans? We will find out soon enough. The flagship franchise of the city, however, is at a crossroads. It is not a rudderless ship, but can the rudder steer them where they want to go? That remains to be seen.

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Watt shocked fans with a surprise Twitter announcement. Composite image by Jack Brame.

We're not sure when Houston will erect its own Mt. Rushmore for sports legends, but we're quite certain that J.J. Watt, who announced his retirement on Tuesday, December 27, and his chiseled countenance will one day jut from the rocky sculpture.

A no-brainer for the NFL Hall of Fame and arguably the greatest player to ever don a Houston Texans uniform (the other being the quiet great Andre Johnson), Watt broke the news on social media, where he posted heartwarming photos of he, wife Kealia, son Koa, and his family.

He stunned the football world — and fans — with this simple message and those family photos taken after his current team the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Koa’s first ever NFL game. My last ever NFL home game. My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude. It’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure.

For many in Houston, it's still a bit surreal to see Justin James Watt — the NFL superstar drafted in the first round in 2011 by the Texans — in Arizona. (A pick that put this publication on the national map for all the wrong reasons with an embarrassing hot take).

After an understandable but still bittersweet release in February 2021, Watt made headlines by signing with the Cardinals, a move many applauded, given the Texans' downward trajectory.

Renowned for his relentless motor, Navy SEAL-type work ethic, team-first approach, and straight-up bulldozing and game wrecking, Watt quickly became a one-man nightmare for opposing coaches and players. Even Hollywood jumped on the WattWagon, with Arnold Schwarzenegger calling Watt a future action star and offering some motivation after a big playoff loss.

His Pick 6 play during the Texans' first-ever playoff game, where he batted down a pass from Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and rumbled in for a touchdown, not only served as a terrifying calling card for the rookie, but would later inspire one his many nicknames: "J.J. Swat."

He would soon become one of only three players in NFL history to win at least three AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, in 2012, 2014, and 2015. In 2014, he made such a splash that he came in second overall for NFL MVP, a rare feat for even the best defensive players.

His stats are nothing short of Hall of Fame-ready. He leads the NFL in tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (281), multi-sack games (26) and sack yards (713.5), while ranking second in sacks (101.0). In 2020, Watt, who led the NFL in sacks twice (2012 and 2015), became the fourth-fastest player in NFL history to total 100.0 sacks, doing so in just his 120th career game, per team stats.

As the NFL Network notes, Watt will retire as only of three players in NFL history to win Defensive Player of the Year three times. Add to that his five first-team All-Pro honors, five Pro Bowl trips, and his status as a two-time NFL sack leader (his 74.5 sacks over that span of time are the second-most since 1982.)

But for all his numbers, perhaps the most significant for No. 99 is $41.6 million: the amount he raised in 2017 for Hurricane Harvey relief — the largest crowd-sourced fundraiser in history. What started as a simple ask for help after the storm became a runaway, feel-good charitable moment across the country — a testament to Watt's superstar power and his ability to influence the public and raise awareness.

One part single-man football army, one part Captain America, Watt evolved into the epitome of the athlete doing it right — on the field and off (even his "Dream Big. Work Hard." Twitter bio is a simple lesson for young athletes everywhere), deftly navigating the intersection of sports and pop culture. Flashing his boyish grin and monstrous biceps, he was a natural fixture on local and national TV commercials, and a viral sensation with ominous warnings to opponents, like this scary "ya mess with me..." declaration in 2014.

Not since Earl Campbell has Houston seen an NFL player put his team and city on his broad shoulders. At six-foot-four and 280 pounds, Watt is a literal and figurative Houston giant, one who cemented all-time hero status with deeds over words, giving over taking, and always being gracious to those across the world who adored him.

The 33-year-old husband, father, and sports powerhouse may be calling it a career in Arizona, but he'll always be a Houstonian — and one of the greatest pro athletes to ever call the city home. Here's hoping if baby Koa Watt elects a career in pro football, he gets a call from Houston on draft night.

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