The Pallilog

Astros, Crane get their apologies out of the way

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

Oh, those Apologizin' Astros! If the sincerity shown by some was electricity, a 10 watt bulb might flicker. One hopes they truly grasp what chump, cheating behavior they took part in and that their shame should feel real, because it is real. Unfortunately, at least some are likely mostly sorry that they got busted and face scorn for it. Decency demanded apologies, but if not sincere they are worthless.

While lead owner Jim Crane shouldn't be criticized for not having sensational oratory skills, at Thursday's press conference he more than once came across as ridiculous. There was no graceful way to please close to everybody, but laughable contradictions and absurd assertions don't make anyone associated with the Astros look good.

How can anyone but a fool or someone lost deep in denial maintain that the Astros' 2017 World Series championship isn't permanently tainted? Lady Macbeth fared infinitely better getting that damn'd spot out than the Astros ever can fare removing the stain they themselves put on 2017.

On the bright side, we're inside six weeks from Opening Day.

Whose house?

The best sports team in this city at its level, discounting the marginally apologetic Astros? Kelvin Sampson's Houston Cougars. A nifty achievement for the program already tucked away, a fifth consecutive 20 win season. The great Guy V. Lewis never accomplished that. Not during the Phi Slama Jama, not during the Elvin Hayes era. Never means never! Granted, teams do play more games in a typical season now than they did back then.

Whatever. After mostly a 30 year hoop coma between Lewis and Sampson, Cougar basketball is again sustainably a national factor. The Coogs stand alone top the American Athletic Conference, are ranked number 20 in the nation, and absolutely have a chance at a major March Madness run. And Sampson has one senior on his roster.

It's a wide open NCAA Tournament coming next month (including the South Regional at Toyota Center). There are no superpower teams this season. Baylor has been marvelous and is rightly ranked number one, but the Bears offense can be verrrrrry shaky. Beyond any Cinderella making major noise at the Big Dance, there are a couple of dozen teams that can harbor very plausible Final Four dreams. Last year's national runner-up Texas Tech is one of them. The Houston Cougars are another. Like the Rockets, UH's outside shooting isn't very good. UNlike the Rockets, UH's defense is outstanding, and Cougar rebounding, astounding. The Cougars have played 25 games and amazingly outrebounded their opponents in every one of them.

Taking their shots

Speaking of the Rockets, with their 34-20 record they hit the NBA All Star break living in the league's upper middle class, though they are closer to the eighth place Grizzlies in the Western Conference than to the frontrunning Lakers. The early returns of "super small" ball are encouraging, but the likelihood that the Rockets can shoot, defend, and rebound well enough to win multiple best-of-seven playoff series does not seem especially high. In fact, the likelihood is close to zero if James Harden and Russell Westbrook don't end their seasons long streaks of worse play in the postseason than in the regular season.

The Rockets yet again lead the NBA in three point shots. The math works. High volume three point shooting, Harden's one man free throw parade, and Russell Westbrook's now relentless attacking of the rim combine to give the Rockets the second most efficient scoring offense in the league (Dallas is number one). This is Daryl Morey's 13th season as General Manager. His tenure has produced six seasons with at least 53 wins and zero losing seasons. But Morey has failed the last couple of years in not adding premium three point shooting to the roster. The Rockets are 23rd of the 30 teams in three point percentage. The seven teams worse all have losing records.

'Neck time

After a rousing success in their debut, do the Houston Roughnecks show signs of sustainability or growth in interest in game two, again home at UH's TDECU Stadium. Another lovely weather forecast with no possible arrogant bumbling decision to close a roof should again help the turnout. Plus, you know what they say: When the Roughnecks and St. Louis BattleHawks get together you can throw out the records.

The XFL on-field product quality is obviously way behind the NFL's, but it took June Jones and the Roughnecks' offense three plays to do something Bill O'Brien and the Texans' offense did in none of the 15 regular season games Deshaun Watson played last season. Score an opening drive touchdown!

Buzzer Beaters

1. NBA All Star Weekend? Yawn. 2. But it's still way better than the Pro Bowl. 3. Best sports Harts: Bronze-Corey Silver-Jim Ray Gold-Jim.


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It's all systems go for the Houston Texans! Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images.

It was 2002 and the city of Houston was rewarded with the NFL's 32nd franchise. I remember the newspaper special section with all the info points on the new team. There was even a full page graphic explaining how the grass plates were constructed. (Side Note: We should've known right then and there it was going to be disastrous!) There was a level of excitement unseen since the Rockets won a title, I'd assume. People were wearing “32, Houston” jerseys. There was more Battle Red, Deep Steel Blue, and Liberty White around town than a Fourth of July day parade.

The next time the city was excited about Texans football involved the Gary Kubiak days of making the playoffs. After that, Bill O'Brien hung a few division title banners as well. That's when the lull came. It all came crashing down, swiftly and mightily. The death of Bob McNair may have played a part in things deteriorating so quickly. Whether blame is placed here or there, changes needed to be made. Cal McNair was seen as incompetent. In comes Nick Caserio. He had a mess to clean up. The last two seasons were awful, but necessary. After back-to-back one-and-done coaches, Caserio has hired his guy.

Enter DeMeco Ryans. The former Texans great linebacker was the 49ers defensive coordinator the past two seasons. He took over a great defense and kept it going. From the moment he stepped on campus at Alabama, he commanded a different level of respect. Not only was he good, but he was a leader. Nicknamed “Cap” because he was a captain on and off the field. That followed him to Houston. His presence was felt everywhere he went. It was known before his career ended that he'd most likely be a coach one day.

This moment in time right now is giving 2002, Kubiak playoffs, and O'Brien playoff vibes but amplified. Why? Because one of this franchise's own has come home. Ryans was the most desired candidate this coaching cycle. Sean Payton may have had the bigger name, but Ryans was the one the Broncos tried to go back after, then settled on Payton. Teams he turned down had to move along and find other candidates to fill their vacancies. HE CHOSE HOUSTON! Nothing like feeling desired and being chosen!

I believe DeMeco will turn this franchise around and make them a contender. It's very rare that you have a star athlete turned sought after coach and NOBODY has a bad word to say about him! Social media has turned things into a 12-hour news cycle. Yet you've NEVER heard or seen DeMeco involved in any foolishness. He's been a model citizen, while also maintaining a high level of play and now coaching. When people respect you for your football acumen AND your character, that says a lot. Whoever said nice guys finish last obviously hasn't met DeMeco.

Armed with some cap space, draft capital, a capable GM, and ownership seeking a fresh start, DeMeco is set up to succeed. It's up to him, and Caserio, to finish what was started two years ago. Currently, the house on Kirby has a few more improvements to make. Some paint, redoing the floors, new landscaping, and new furniture. The kitchens and bathrooms are done. It needs the final touch. DeMeco is that final touch.

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