Hometown Heroes

The top 5 athletes in Houston sports history

Hakeem Olajuwon changed sports in Houston. Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

Texas is known for having some of the most talented athletes from across the world. College coaches consider Houston to be one of the best recruiting hot spots every year, so it's no surprise that some of these incredible players would wind up playing professionally in Houston.

Not all the players on this list are from Texas originally, but they got here as soon as they could. This list is only five players deep —see who made the cut.

5. Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio comes in at No. 5. Biggio became the first player to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Houston Astro in 2015, and he finished his career with 3,060 hits. He began his career with the Astros in 1988 as a catcher, and he eventually moved positions several times over the years. Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and a second baseman, something that had never been accomplished in the history of baseball. His seven All-Star appearances and his 668 career doubles ranked him fifth in major league history and are the most ever by a right-handed hitter.

His career averages were very impressive as well, as he was able to rack up 105 runs, 17 homers, 38 doubles, 67 RBI, and 24 stolen bases on average per season. Biggio's No. 7 was retired from the Astros in 2008, making him the ninth player in Astros history to have this honor. He has a strong relationship with the Astros front office and players and will always be remembered as the first player to be inducted into Cooperstown as an Astro.

4. Jeff Bagwell

The last two spots are reserved for the most famous of the Killer B's: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The order of these two players is clearly subjective, but Jeff Bagwell ranks ahead of Biggio for one big reason: power. This decision is mostly based on statistics, and which player I thought was better in his prime. Bagwell, on average, was much better than Biggio in some of the most important offensive categories, such as runs, home runs, RBIs, and batting average. He finished with a career season average of 114 runs scored, 34 home runs, 115 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and a .297 career batting average. Yes, he averaged those numbers for his entire career.

He won Rookie of the Year in 1991 and made the All-Star team four times. That's saying something when you consider the Hall of Fame first basemen he was competing against throughout his career. Albert Pujols, anyone? Bagwell also has a National League MVP on his resume from the strike-shortened 1994 season in which Bagwell already had 39 bombs and 116 RBI through only 110 games.

He was a member of the only Astros team to play in a World Series, but didn’t have much left at that point in his career. The team was swept by the Chicago White Sox, and Bagwell’s severe shoulder injury would eventually end his career. Bagwell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017, and remains one of the most revered athletes to ever play in Houston.

3. Earl Campbell

The third name on the list is one of the best running backs in the history of college football and the NFL, Earl Campbell. Earl was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1978 and had a rookie season for the ages. Campbell won the Rookie of the Year award and was named to the All-Pro team after rushing for 1,450 yards with 13 TDs in his first season.

Campbell's best season was two years later when he rushed for a mind-boggling 1,934 yards and an unbelievable 5.2 yards per carry. Not to mention, Campbell won the MVP in 1979 with 1,697 rushing yards and a whopping 19 TDs. His overall resume is incredibly impressive: He finished his college career with a Heisman trophy at the University of Texas in 1977, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1978, five Pro Bowls, three Offensive Player of the Year awards, and the MVP of the National Football League in 1979.

His career was short-lived due to the pounding he took in college and the pros, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991 after only eight seasons in the league. “The Tyler Rose” is still a local favorite in Houston for being a big part of the Luv Ya Blue Oilers teams that just couldn't get past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. He remains one of the most iconic players to ever play in front of a Houston crowd.

2. Nolan Ryan

The second spot on the list goes to the iconic Nolan Ryan. Nothing says badass more than Nolan Ryan, and maybe Chuck Norris. His combination of talent and intimidation is something that every young pitcher dreams of. A 100 mph fastball and a willingness to throw inside made him a legend, and racking up Ks at a never-before-seen pace sure didn’t hurt his reputation.

For a pitcher, strikeouts show just how nasty your stuff is, and Ryan is the all-time king of strikeouts, with over 5,000 in his career — talk about a record that will never be broken. One of his biggest achievements was throwing his record-breaking fifth no-hitter for the Astros in 1981 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was already 34 years old at the time, but nobody knew he had another decade left in that right arm.

His other super human ability, besides his blazing fastball, was his longevity. He was able to pitch until the age of 46 and was still considered a power pitcher upon retirement. Ryan played on some great Astros teams, particularly in 1980 and 1986. Both teams came very close to a World Series appearance, and Ryan was a huge part of those teams.

He finished his career with the Texas Rangers, but will always have a special place in the hearts of Houston fans. The Astros were not interested in bringing him back after the 1988 season, and didn’t foresee he would have so many more quality years left. You can still catch Nolan at the ball park quite often, and his Nolan Ryan Beef is a huge hit at Minute Maid Park, especially on Wednesday nights for dollar hot dogs. Oh, and by the way, his son is the president of the Astros. Pretty amazing considering the Astros might have the blue print for one of the best run teams in Major League Baseball.

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

When we're talking about the best Houston player of all-time, championships have to be the first thing considered. No offense to Robert Horry or any of the other guys, but it was very clear which player was the driving force behind the Rockets' back-to-back NBA championships. Look no further than "The Dream," Hakeem Olajuwon.

Hakeem was drafted by the Rockets in 1984 and started his career with a bang, being voted runner-up as Rookie of the Year finishing just behind the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Olajuwon ended up making the All-Star team 12 times, was voted Defensive Player of the Year twice, and finished as the regular season and finals MVP in 1994. He was also voted finals MVP in 1995 when the Rockets won their second championship in a row.

The Rockets are the only Houston team to win it all in modern times, and that feat places Olajuwon in a lonely tier of all-time Houston athletes. We've had some talented HOF players over the years, but it's all about winning in the end, and no other athlete comes close to the achievements of Olajuwon.

He almost captured a college championship as well for the city of Houston, but he and the University of Houston Cougars fell just short in an all-time upset against North Carolina State in 1983. Dealing with that failure may have been a critical learning experience that eventually led to back-to-back championships with the Rockets. Olajuwon is still a big presence in the Rockets organization and is well-known for helping young players develop their skills in the post.

The organization has also made a significant front office change

Texans promote from within for new DC as changes begin

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A few of the Texans changes are just a sign of Bill O'Brien's increasing power.

Romeo Crennel is out

This was a move that had to be made. Despite issues with health and talent, the Texans defense was not anywhere close to good enough under Romeo Crennel. A top five points per game number in 2018 turned into the 19th best figure in football in 2019 capped off by defensive ineptitude against the Chiefs in the playoffs. The Texans were also bottom five in yards per game.

The Texans once before had Crennel leaving the defensive coordinator spot with the promotion of Mike Vrabel to defensive coordinator only to have the long-time coordinator return when Vrabel was hired by the Titans. Hopefully this move works out better than the last time as Vrabel oversaw a massive drop off in his one year at the head of the defense.

It wouldn't be unusual to expect to still see Crennel with the Texans considering the youth and inexperience as a coordinator the new team's defensive coordinator possesses.

Anthony Weaver is in

I didn't believe the Texans would turn to Anthony Weaver as their next defensive coordinator, perhaps opting for more experience, but here we are. I really enjoy this risk the Texans are taking.

Weaver is well respected across the NFL and people I have talked to mentioned they thought he might have been ready to coordinate a defense before last season. There is a thought he will be a head coach in the league eventually if his success as a position coach carries over to the coordinator job.

Weaver has been in Houston coaching the defensive line for four seasons after two seasons doing the same in Cleveland. I don't need to tell you the Texans defensive line has vastly overachieved when you think about the actual investment the team has made in it to this date. Weaver has turned player after player into contributor and has coached up D.J. Reader, a late round pick, to near the top of his position.

Weaver played under Rex Ryan when Ryan was the defensive line coach and defensive coordinator in Baltimore. He also coached under current Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in Cleveland.

This is no easy task for Weaver. He takes over a side of the ball with quite a few holes to fill via either free agency, trade, or the draft. His side of the football lacks overall talent and there aren't a ton of avenues to get a talent influx for the Texans defense.

A new leader of the defense, and hopefully new direction, could be a huge move for a side of the ball that underwhelmed in 2019. Of course, they didn't underwhelm anywhere near the level of underwhelming the offense was, but there have yet to be many changes on that side of the ball.

The last time the Texans promoted from within for this position, they failed miserably that season on defense bottoming-out. The team will have to hope Weaver has different results.

Contract expert shown the door

This was a huge shocker to me from the front office side of the Texans. When I talked at length about the Texans with people around the NFL there was always a conversation about how no matter what the structure was when it came to the general manager situation the Texans could lean on Chris Olsen to make sure their contracts were lined up right.

Olsen was very well thought of around the league. Now, the Texans have one less front office mind to lean on as the non-GM situation seems to continue.

I would say though, over the past year, the Texans have handed out some very un-Olsen type deals to players. Nick Martin's contract seemed pricey. Whitney Mercilus potentially was overpaid a great deal. But there were still plenty of really good deals made in the past year.

The Texans are set to negotiate two of the biggest contracts in franchise history this offseason with the expectation quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil get new deals.

For whatever reason, Bill O'Brien and Jack Easterby along with whatever other people sit on the council of decision-making have decided the contract expert was not needed. This could be because they have someone in mind for these duties but it also could mean something much bigger.

This could be a clearing so the Texans could hire a general manager. Now, I believe O'Brien would still maintain power over said GM but I also think it would take a lot off O'Brien's plate while still allowing him to work with the offense to a great degree.

O'Brien can't continue at his current pace. He was spread too thin and the team suffered for it. A general manager could take some of those duties off his hands while allowing him to get back to the offense in a more full-time capacity. Again, I believe O'Brien would remain the final decision maker on most everything, but it wouldn't hurt to have that title on someone and help the Texans top employee

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