HARRIS COUNTY-HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

UH's Oliver adds to Houston's long, glorious history with Sports Illustrated cover shots

Who can forget the 2014 SI Cover? Courtesy photo

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

There’s a new cover boy in town.

Yes, Houston Cougar junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver, one of the best players in the game and potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, graces one of the four regional Sports Illustrated College Football Preview issues this week. The Big Boss, as the headline says, is the second Cougar in three years to land on the SI preview cover. Greg Ward, Jr., made it in 2016.

All of which got us to thinking. Not about those dreaded cover jinxes. Just about SI covers period.

Specifically, we started pondering Houstonians who have graced the cover of SI’s wide range of imprints over the years. So we dug a little deeper into the subject, casting a wide #HoustonStrong net across the Internet to encompass players, teams, athletes who trained in Houston and Houston natives. We also counted those athletes when they played in college or when they were with other professional teams.

Plus we counted covers from all the SI publications we could find, including SI for Kids, Where Are They Now and other specialty imprints. We also added those covers where someone shared the cover.

What we found on our probably imperfect search might surprise you. At the very least, it will give you a few interesting tidbits to toss around with your friends.

The first cover that came to mind was a no-brainer. SI predicted back in 2014 – with George Springer on the cover – that our Houston Astros would win the 2017 World Series. They did it and wound up not only with a celebration cover, but also one with Series MVP Springer and likely – at the time – AL MVP Jose Altuve on another cover.

It got better a few months later when Altuve shared a #HoustonStrong Sportsperson of the Year cover with Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

But you knew about those.

What you might not know? Here goes. . .

* The Houstonian with the most combined covers? Vince Young with nine. Eight of those covers of the Madison High grad came in a University of Texas uniform; one as a Tennessee Titan.

* No. 2? Nolan Ryan with eight. None of them came in an Astros uniform.

* Boxer George Foreman and Roger Clemens are tied with seven each (only one of Clemens’ covers was in an Astros uniform) and the legendary A.J. Foyt and Carl Lewis were each on covers six times.

* Earl Campbell and Watt come in with five each, followed by Hakeem Olajuwon, James Harden, Justin Verlander, Deshaun Watson and Yao Ming. Altuve has three; Michael Strahan has two.

* Who could forget Mary Lou Retton’s “Only You, Mary Lou” cover from the 1984 Olympic Games? She shared the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year cover with Edwin Moses later that year. Simone Biles and UH quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware were also on two covers.

* Houston Comets Sheryl Swoopes (three) and Cynthia Cooper (two) were both on covers, too.

* In the summer of 2015, SI did something different, giving each member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team her own cover, including then-Houston Dash stars Carli Lloyd, Meghan Klingenberg and Morgan Brian.

* The first Houston cover we could find was Foyt on June 1, 1964, followed by Oilers QB Don Trull on the August 17, 1964 cover. Yes, Jackie Burke won the Masters in 1956, but the cover that week went to another golfer -- Curtis Cup star Barbara Romack.

* The first Houston Astros cover? Future Hall of Famer/second baseman Joe Morgan and shortstop Sonny Jackson were featured with the headline – “Astros in Orbit” – on the June 5, 1966 cover.

* We can’t forget the January  29, 1968 cover from the Game of the Century where  UH’s Elvin Hayes shoots over UCLA’s Lew Alcindor/ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  in Houston’s 71-69 win. Headline was “Big EEEE over Big Lew.”

Some other Houston stars with at least one SI cover moment? Clyde Drexler, Fred Couples, Warren Moon, Dan Pastorini (he was being sacked by Pittsburgh’s L.C. Greenwood), Ralph Sampson, Thurman Thomas and David Klingler.

* And, while she’s not a Houston athlete, model Kate Upton is Mrs. Justin Verlander. She has been on three SI swimsuit covers and one regular cover with then-Atlanta Braves B.J. and Justin Upton.

Finally, we leave you with one more tidbit. Just so you know, the top four athletes with the most SI (only) covers are Michael Jordan (50), Muhammad Ali (40), LeBron James (25) and Tiger Woods (24). And if you add the times those four were on the other imprints too? We’ll leave that up to you. We’re out of time – and space.






 

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Should Watson be in the MVP conversation? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2020 NFL season has a lot going on. Even if we take the coronavirus out of it, there's still a lot to digest. There are so many great performances being put up, one can make an argument for several players to win league MVP. The quarterback position typically gets more credit than others. If I restrict the argument to quarterbacks only, we're looking at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Derrick Henry are the leading contenders at running back. On defense, there really isn't a standout defender. The defense gets no love, but there are several guys in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Deshaun Watson has been putting up numbers that have matched or rivaled some of the top MVP candidates over his last seven games. That stretch has coincided with the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien. Coincidence? I think not. Taking the reigns off a wild horse can often lead to said horse running free and flourishing! So question: Should Watson be getting league MVP considerations? I think so.

For starters, he's been one of the best players in the league over the course of the last seven games. 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. The only quarterback with a better touchdown to interception ratio over that same span is Mahomes (19 and 2, as opposed to Watson's 18 & 2). Factoring in total season stats, of course Mahomes is doing much better. He's on a better team with a much better coach and general manager. The same could be said for Wilson and Rodgers. Put Watson on any of those teams and their records wouldn't be any worse than what they are now.

The Texans are 4-3 since firing O'Brien. While that isn't a great record, consider the fact they started the season 0-4 and looked like a total disaster. Watson looked like he was caged and couldn't wait to be freed. The team's record could be even better if the defense had a pulse. The proper supporting cast has a lot to do with a player's MVP candidate's chances. Now that one of his favorite weapons, Will Fuller, and the team's best corner, Bradley Roby, are both suspended for the rest of the season by the league for violating the substance abuse/PED policy, things will get much tougher for Watson.

If he continues to put up these cartoon like numbers, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the MVP conversation. He's currently fopurth in passing yards, sixth in completion percentage, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, eighth in QBR, and third in quarterback rating. Watson is emerging as the star he was projected to be coming into the 2017 draft. I'm not saying Watson deserves to be the league MVP, but he deserves to be in the conversation. His MVP candidacy should be treated like the family gathering hierarchy: once you reach a certain age and/or status, you're no longer resigned to the kiddie table. Now you get to sit with all the adults, engage in their conversations, and gain access to things you couldn't previously. Watson won't win the MVP award, but I strongly believe he could finish top five. Especially if he keeps making lemonade with the lemons he's been given.

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