How this new documentary could tilt some Houston fans' perspectives

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Just when you thought time and a worldwide pandemic would help everybody forget thinking of the Houston Astros as evil, conniving cheaters … along comes a furloughed LeBron James to produce a documentary, Last Dance-style, about the Astros 2017 sign-stealing scandal. The multi-part series will be called Sign Language, due for the streaming service Quibi. No date yet when the expose will be ready, but fans in New York and Los Angeles already are calling Pizza Hut and getting comfortable on their couches.

What's left about the Astros descent into infamy that we don't already know? According to a press release in Sports Illustrated, Sign Language will "transcend the baseball diamond to explore larger themes of greed, cheating, corruption, sportsmanship and social media activism." And you thought it was just wayward ballplayers whacking a garbage can? Nope, it was a mirror of society, a study of the human condition.

Or when a breaking pitch was coming. Remind me again, what baseball team does LeBron James root for? Punch up a photo of LeBron wearing his Yankees cap.

Sign Language may be a blunt awakening for Astros fans in Houston. I read the local paper and listen to talk radio. Here many fans believe the real villain in the scandal is Mike Fiers, who ratted out the Astros two years after he accepted his World Series ring and prize money and moved to another team. Here's what the other 29/30ths of the baseball world thinks. The Astros cheated and got caught. They admitted that they cheated and promised never to do it again. Why are you mad at Mike Fiers? You should be mad at the Astros.

Everywhere else, fans can't believe that the Astros got off so lightly, with only their manager and general manager suspended for a season, loss of draft picks and a $5 million fine. That's pocket change for Astros owner Jim Crane. Everywhere else, fans can't believe that no Astros player was suspended for a game, 50 games, a season or forever. You'll probably hear Yankees and Dodgers fans (and some players) say that the Astros disgraced the sport. A hundred years ago, eight Chicago White Sox players were banned for life for cheating in the World Series. The only difference between the Black Sox and the Astros … the Black Sox cheated to lose the World Series, the Astros cheated to win the World Series. If cheating is cheating, what's the difference?

The best part of Sign Language, will come after the documentary airs, when LeBron James and the Lakers come to Houston to play the Rockets. Shhh, if you listen real close, you can already hear the booing.

A Giant surprise

I have no problem with fakes and phonies, in fact I see it as an art form. But even I'm appalled by the Masked Singer on Fox. Here's a typical last five minutes of the show. The panelists offer their guesses who's inside the cockroach costume. Jenny McCarthy will say, "It's Bruce Springsteen!" Nicole Scherzinger will say, "It's got to be Drake!" Ken Jeong will guess "Mick Jagger!" The audience will chant "Take it off," and the mystery celebrity will be revealed … it's Jake from State Farm. Meanwhile, the panelists lose their minds, they can't believe that the Masked Singer landed such a superstar. And it's not even the new, cool-looking Jake from State Farm. They got the old pudgy one.

Last week, it was time for the Rhino to be unmasked. Among the panel's guesses: Sam Hunt, Trace Adkins, David Hasselhoff, Tim Tebow and country superstar Jason Aldean. One panelist, and I'm not kidding, thought it was Blake Shelton.

Yeah, it's Blake Shelton, one of the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world, the star of NBC's The Voice, is sweating in a Halloween costume on a silly game show on a rival network.

The Rhino slowly twisted and turned his mask. It was Barry Zito, the former San Francisco Giants lefty pitcher, who retired five years ago. The panelists jumped from their seats with orgasmic glee. For real? I'm not accusing Fox sneaking the identity of the mystery singers to the panelists, or instructing them to pretend they recognize – or ever heard of – Barry Zito. I have trouble believing that former Pussycat Dolls singer Scherzinger could take one look at a sweaty Barry Zito with his hair plastered down and know who that person is. She gave him the "I love you" sign. She must have been a big fan of his 65-mph slow curveball.

I have been a Giants fan my whole life. I couldn't pick Barry Zito out of a police lineup. Jenny McCarthy knew that Zito wore No. 75 and won the Cy Young Award? I doubt if Giants catcher Buster Posey could tell you what number Zito wore.

Last respects

Off the sports beat, three very, very funny actors died recently: Fred Willard, who played insane dog show announcer Buck Laughlin in Best in Show; Jerry Stiller, who played Frank Costanza in Seinfeld; and Ken Osmond, who played smart aleck Eddie Haskell in Leave it to Beaver. Here are my favorite lines from each:

Buck Laughlin - I don't think I could ever get used to being poked and prodded. I told my proctologist one time, "Why don't you ever take me out to dinner and a movie sometime?"

Frank Costanza - The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're gonna hear about it.

Eddie Haskell – Wally, if your dumb brother tags along, I'm gonna … oh, good afternoon Mrs. Cleaver. I was just telling Wallace how pleasant it would be for Theodore to accompany us to the movies.

I went through the drive-through at Chick-fil-A one morning this week. They've got new home kits for chicken parm sandwiches! One question, Chick-fil-A, have you been reading my diary?

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J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans all-time leader in sacks (96.0), is entering his ninth season with the franchise ahead of what will certainly be an anomaly year for the NFL. Due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, there is serious doubt that the NFL will be able to play a full 16-game schedule, while others express their concern with the league's inability to play any form of football come the fall of 2020.

There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the league this coming season, which is becoming a theme for Watt's future in Houston.

The 31-year-old defensive end has two years remaining on his six-year, $100 million contract extension he signed in September of 2014. But as he prepares to embark on another year with the Texans through Zoom meetings with his teammates, a new contract is not on Watt's priority list.

"No, I don't think that's necessary," Watt told Houston reporters on Wednesday. "I fully understand and respect the situation that I'm in at the moment, and what's happened in the past few years, so I'm not gonna sit here and demand anything. I think if I went back and asked for an extension or more money, I think that would be the wrong move. I am just going out there to prove my worth and to help this team win games."

As of now, it is unsure what the future holds for Watt's career with the Texans. Should management re-sign the three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner (2012, 2014 & 2015), the question becomes: How much is Watt worth as he enters the twilight of his career? It's the subject that will be the driving force when discussing Watt's future with the team, and the segment that sparked a trade rumor of his departure to the Chicago Bears.

Although his on-field production remains extremely valuable, Watt has had a difficult time trying to stay healthy. Since 2016, he has missed 32 out of a possible 64 games due to an abundance of injuries. In 2019, Watt missed half of the season after suffering a torn pectoral during the Texans' 27-24 victory over the then-Oakland Raiders.

"My goal for every season is to do whatever possible to help this team win, and number one, that means staying healthy," he said. "You have to be on the field in order to help the team win, and then it is to play at the peak physical level I am capable of. It is just making sure I am in the best possible shape to perform that way."

Contract and injuries aside, the five-time Pro-Bowler is excited about his opportunity to play under new defensive coordinator, Anthony Weaver. During his introductory press conference two weeks ago, Weaver said Watt will remain the focal point for the Texans' defense in 2020, but acknowledged getting the future Hall of Famer through 16 games remains a hurdle.

After four seasons serving as Houston's defensive line coach, the Texans promoted Weaver to defensive coordinator in January to replace Romeo Crennel.

"I love [Anthony] Weaver... I think that he has a great mixture of knowledge of the game, experience, but also personality to be able to handle the players in the room," Watt said. "To be able to inject some fun and excitement into meetings, practice and everything, all while bringing the knowledge necessary to run a good defense."

Under the guidance of a new defensive coordinator, Weaver may be just the coach to help Watt rekindle the potential that made him an All-Pro defensive end. Regardless of the uncertainties surrounding his future at the conclusion of his contract, Watt is hoping he will have the opportunity to finish his career where it started — in Houston.

"That is a goal of mine, and this city [Houston] has been incredible to me since I got here," Watt said. "I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but I certainly hope that's the case."

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