WWE's Royal Rumble arrives this Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Paul Muth
I'm not a big sign guy.
You know sign guys. The people who write puns on posters. The ones who carry the letter "D" in one had and a cutout of a literal fence in the other. The "Houston, YOU have a problem" sign guys.
I tried it once when I was 14, was punched in the face, and sort of lost my appetite after that.
Let me explain.
It was April 1, 2001. Wrestlemania 17. I won't ask my parents how much it cost them, but my aunt and uncle scored floor seats to the greatest spectacle in sports entertainment in no better confines than the Astrodome herself and I got to tag along.
It was a hell of a show. Some say it was one of the best Wrestlemanias ever. The card was stacked, including a Triple-H match against the hometown hero The Undertaker that set the stage for the main event.
At precisely two hours and forty-eight minutes into the event, Undertaker sent Triple-H flying over the barricade and "INTO THE STANDS!"
"Holy crap," 14-year-old Paul thought. "They're headed right down my aisle."
Now I'm not sure how it works these days, but back then it was totally customary to bail on your seat and follow the fight as they weaved up and down the aisles. I wasn't about to miss the chance so I grabbed my poorly scribbled wrestling poster, glanced back and my Aunt for the OK, then darted after the action.
The fight snaked its way up to some scaffolding with a camera perched atop. There, the fight would stall as they battled their way to the top. Oblivious to anything but the action in front of me, I threw my sign up as high as I could, probably screamed at the top of my lungs, and my voice probably cracked in the process. I was 14.
Suddenly someone pushed me in the back of my shoulder. I turned around and there was an old lady, maybe five feet tall, standing on her chair. She had the quintessential cowgirl big hair and enough costume jewelry on to short-circuit a metal detector.
"GET THE @#$% OUT THE WAY, BOY," she commanded in the most east Texas accent you've ever heard in your life. I ignored her and turned back around.
Then she pushed me again.
I turned around again and before I had any clue what was happening, this knockoff mini Dolly Parton had already connected a stiff left hook to my temple. She then grabbed my sign and ripped it in half. Stunned, I retreated to my seat while tending to a now bleeding eyebrow thanks to what I assume was a Wal-Mart engagement ring.
Haven't really been a big sign guy since.
But this weekend the WWE takes over Minute Maid Park for their annual Pay-Per-View event known as the Royal Rumble. It will be the first time since that fateful night in the Astrodome 19 years ago that I've returned to a high profile wrestling event.
Now am I looking forward to this weekend as an opportunity to retake the dignity that was ripped away so long ago? Probably not. I'll most likely just drink a bunch of beer and yell at wrestlers with my friends. But I'm not ruling anything out.
Now instead of a power rankings this week, I figured that in the spirit of the Royal Rumble we could rehash some of the best sports fights Houston's served up:
#5 Charles Barkley throws man through window
Now I know this one didn't happen on a court, but the story is just too good. In a classic case of "play stupid games, win stupid prizes," a 5'2" Floridian by the name of Jorge Lugo decided to harrass the 6'6" then-power forward for the Houston Rockets at an Orlando bar . Barkley ignored and avoided the issue until a Lugo-thrown glass intended for Barkley missed and struck a nearby woman. Bad move. When judge presiding over the ensuing case asked Barkley if he had any regrets, The Round Mound of Rebound replied "Yeah, I regret we weren't on a higher floor."
#4 Chris Paul serves a two-piece to Rajon Rondo
This one is actually fairly recent and adds to what I discovered was a hefty list of Rockets throw downs. After breaking up a stare down between Lakers forward Brandon Ingram and James Harden, Paul and Rondo began a heated chest-to-chest exchange. From all replay indications it appeared as if Rondo then spit on Paul, which triggered a disrespectful finger push to Rondo's face, which then descended into a good old fashioned knuckle sandwich exchange. Paul was suspended for two games.
#3 Derrick Lewis verifies amateur of amateur status
Some dude actually had the nerve to walk in to UFC Heavyweight fighter and Houston native Derrick Lewis' gym and pick a fight. The amateur claimed that he would knock Lewis out because he was an MMA fighter, and not a real boxer. "The Black Beast" was more than happy to oblige, and swiftly teleported the no name into the shadow realm.
#2 Vernon Maxwell fights Portland man
Sometimes people forget that sporting events are intended to be family friendly. Some also forget that players are people with actual feelings. Maxwell claims that aside from general harassment, a Portland fan decided to bring Maxwell's wife's recent miscarriage to light as well. Maxwell stood up from the bench, calmly walked up the stairs, and knocked the crap out of the dude. Maxwell was suspended 10 games.
#1 Andre Johnson baptizes Courtland Finnegan
It had been seasons in the making. Finnegan had built a reputation out of adding cheap shots here and there, ripping helmets off at the end of plays, and various other dirty tactics. In late November of 2010 Johnson had reached the end of his rope. Schadenfreude was the flavor of the day for all Texans fans as Johnson manhandled Finnegan, reigning down fists of righteous justice.
Nico Collins had the best game of his career, and the Texans’ defense came up huge to help Houston hand Denver its first loss since mid-October.
Collins had a career-high 191 yards receiving and a fourth-quarter touchdown, and Jimmie Ward intercepted Denver’s Russell Wilson in the end zone with 9 seconds left to left to help the Houston Texans hold on for a 22-17 win over the Broncos on Sunday.
Ward leapt in front of intended receiver Lucas Krull to secure the fourth victory in five games for Houston (7-5) and snap a five-game winning streak for Denver (6-6).
Wilson was intercepted a season-high three times, all of them after halftime. Derek Stingley Jr. had the first two picks for the Texans. The Broncos had forced 15 turnovers in their winning streak but did not have a takeaway Sunday.
Houston rookie C.J. Stroud threw for 274 yards to end a streak of four straight games with at least 300 yards passing. Star rookie receiver Tank Dell injured his ankle in the first half and was carted off the field.
Texans rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr., the third overall pick in the draft, had the best game of his young career. The former Alabama star had two sacks, four quarterback hits, deflected one of the balls that Stingley intercepted and deflected a punt.
Wilson threw for 186 yards with a touchdown in Denver’s first loss since Oct. 12.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wilson’s 41-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy got Denver to the 1, and the QB ran for the touchdown on the next play to cut Houston’s lead to 22-17.
The Broncos got a stop and were driving on the ensuing possession when Stingley hopped in front of a pass intended for Courtland Sutton to give Houston the ball back.
Stroud was shaken up on a run on the next drive and left the game for two plays while he was examined in the medical tent on the sideline. He returned and was sacked before the Texans punted.
Sutton grabbed a 45-yard touchdown pass from Wilson that cut the lead to 16-10 with about five minutes remaining in the third. It was the 329th career TD pass for Wilson, who moved past Dan Marino for second-most in a player’s first 12 seasons.
Stroud was sacked and fumbled on third down on Houston’s next possession, but the Texans got the ball back. They punted, but Stingley intercepted Wilson on Denver’s first play on a ball that was deflected by Anderson.
The Texans cashed in on the miscue when Collins scored on a 3-yard reception on the second play of the fourth quarter. The 2-point conversion failed to leave Houston up 22-10.
The Texans forced a three-and-out on the first possession of the second half when Anderson sacked Wilson on first down and Jonathan Greenard took him down on third down. Houston pushed the lead to 16-3 on Matt Ammendola’s 38-yard field goal.
The Texans led by three in the first quarter when they went for it on fourth-and-2. Houston was called for a false start on the play, but Alex Singleton hit Stroud late to draw an unnecessary roughness penalty and give the Texans a first down at the Broncos 3.
Two plays later, Pierce bulled in for the touchdown to make it 10-0. Dell was injured when he got rolled up at the end of Pierce’s run.
Broncos G Quinn Meinerz left in the fourth quarter with a shoulder.
Texans receiver Tank Dell suffered a fractured fibula, per NFL media.
Broncos: Visit the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday.
Texans: Visit the New York Jets next Sunday.injury.