H-TOWN HEROS

Local sports legends shine at second annual Houston Sports Awards

Alex Bregman was a big hit. Photo by Paul Muth.

Originally appeared on CultureMap Houston.

From Olympic gold medalists to World Series champions, heavyweight boxing greats to football and basketball MVPs, the blue carpet at the second annual Houston Sports Awards was a veritable line of legends at the Hilton Americas Downtown.

The Houston Sports Awards were created last year to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of Houston's own sporting community, both past and present. Last year featured the first round of inductees: Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell, and Nolan Ryan.

This year's awards dinner was hosted by longtime Houston Sports commentator Bill Worrell, and featured A-list award presenters such as Calvin Murphy of the Houston Rockets, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans, and former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, fresh from his Super Bowl appearance with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Houston Sports Authority inducted Hall of Fame golfer Jack Burke, Jr., racing legend AJ Foyt, hometown hero and heavyweight champion boxer George Foreman, and Houston Oilers quarterback (and man about town) Dan Pastorini.

"This is extra special to me," Foreman told CultureMap on the red carpet. "These are legends, can you believe? I didn't even know that I'd meet them one day."

As one of the late arrivals, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was greeted to massive cheers from frenzied fans. Upon learning mid-interview that the crowd was composed of mostly students from tragedy-stricken Santa Fe High School, Bregman pulled away from the media, slid off the blue carpet and spent roughly five minutes taking selfies and signing autographs for the students.

"I'm happy to have them here," Bregman told us.

This year's Coach of the Year award was accepted via satellite from Sacramento — Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni won out over fellow nominees AJ Hinch of the Houston Astros, Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans, and University of Houston men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson.

The Moment of the Year award was a tight field among the professional sports, but it was the late additional nomination of North Shore High School's State Championship-clinching Hail Mary reception that took home the hardware.

"It's an incredible experience, and one that I don't think people understand unless you're in the Houston area," Head Coach Jon Kay told CultureMap. "This trophy's going to be in the field house, right next to our state championship."

Houston Texans star defensive end, JJ Watt received his second consecutive Sportsmanship Award for his selfless work with the victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting. Watt took the trophy from the former SFHS students presenting and handed it right back to the students to keep.

The evening continued as High School Athlete of the Year was presented to Woodlands High School track and football standout Kasean Clark, while University of Houston quarterback D'Eriq King received the College Athlete of the Year.

"It's been a lot of hard work since my high school days," King explained after receiving the award. "It's very humbling, and I'm excited that I get to play in my hometown in front of my family and friends. It's just been a wild ride."

The evening reached its peak when the Athlete of The Year segment began. The Houston Sports Authority was tasked with choosing between breakout Astros' Alex Bregman, Rockets (and NBA) MVP James Harden, Texans first team All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and gold medal gymnast phenom Simone Biles.

To find out who won, read the rest of the story on CultureMap.

Photo via Houston Cougar Football/Facebook

When the news broke on Monday, it made little sense. Sensational senior quarterback D'Eriq King and receiver Keith Corbin announced they were redshirting thanks to a new rule that allows players to do so after four games. It was confusing, in that some reports had King planning to transfer.

As of now, he says he is staying. But should he decide to transfer, he will be a hot property. On the surface, punting on the season seems bizarre. But if it really plays out this way and he is back at UH next season, the move makes a lot of sense.

Rough start

King is under his third coach in four years. When Dana Holgorsen came in, it seemed to be a godsend for the program, a successful Power Five coach with a knack for offense. But a tough early schedule that included games against Oklahoma and Washington State led to a 1-3 start. The killer was a loss at Tulane, a game in which UH blew a 21-point lead. Even with King and Corbin, the Cougars have little shot at anything more than a bottom feeder bowl game.

Does it make sense?

Make no mistake, the Cougars are tanking. It's not something we have seen in college football. But if King does return, it makes sense. Holgorsen has several high profile transfers sitting out this season, and the roster will be in much better shape in 2020. King can work on his craft for another year and come back ready to make a run at a conference title; maybe more. Or he can graduate and go to a bigger school. His accuracy was not the same this season; time off to work on it could help.

Bare cupboard

The Cougars collapse began last season, and culminated in an ugly bowl loss to Army, one that cost Major Applewhite his job. Other than King and a few quality players, Applewhite left a fairly bare cupboard, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The decline actually started in Tom Heman's final year, and got worse under Applewhite.

The Cougars are better than they were at the end of last season, but the record does not reflect it. Truthfully, they aren't good enough to compete for a conference title. So why not get some young players experience and come back strong next season?

Serious impact this year

With King, the Cougars might have been favored in three or four games left in the season. They would need five wins to get bowl eligible. As it stands? They will likely only be favored in one, against UConn.

They opened as 1 1/2 point favorites at North Texas; now they are seven point underdogs. Clayton Tune has some experience at quarterback, filling in when King got hurt last year. He won't be a disaster. But the Cougars will not be nearly as good.

People who bought season tickets on the Holgorsen hope can't be happy. This is not what they were sold on. It also means the Cougars better have some success in 2020, or Holgorsen's seat will get hot fast. He is likely headed for a losing season at a place that brags about firing coaches for eight win seasons.

Now that will have to happen in 2020, when they have games at Washington State and at BYU. But who knows how it will all play out? The bizarre move does not guarantee them anything. But despite how it looks on the surface, it does make some sense.

Welcome to tanking in college football. To quote Dodgeball, "That's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off."


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