A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County - Houston Sports Authority: Honoring the 34s

Hakeem Olajuwon and two other 34s -- Nolan Ryan and Earl Campbell -- will be honored Feb. 8 Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

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Nolan. Earl. Hakeem.

No last names needed.

They are larger than life and Houston legends. The city’s Mount Rushmore. A trio of Hall of Famers who didn’t waste any time redefining their respective positions the second they put on their Houston jerseys.

And we know there’s no need to remind you they all wore No. 34.

It’s not the least bit of a reach to call Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell and Hakeem Olajuwon the top three athletes in Houston sports history. You can parse the order of that list, but the 34s, as we know them, are simply the best of H-town’s best which is why they’ll be celebrated at the inaugural red-carpet Houston Sports Awards February 8, 2018.

“Somehow, Hakeem, Nolan and myself all ended up with No. 34,’’ Campbell said. “This is extremely rare air to be flying in and I'm truly honored to be surrounded with two of the best to ever do it."

Rare air, indeed.

But did you know that Olajuwon is the only one of the three to wear Number 34 his entire college and pro career?

Olajuwon wore 34 first as the center during the Phi Slama Jama days as a Houston Cougar, then as one of driving forces in the Houston Rockets’ back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.

Ryan was drafted out of Alvin High School by the New York Mets and wore No. 30 both there and when he played for the California Angels. When he signed with Houston after the 1979 season, Astros outfielder Jeffery Leonard already had No. 30, so Ryan took No. 34. He kept that number when he finished his career with the Texas Rangers.

“I didn’t feel like it was right that I ask for somebody else’s number,’’ Ryan said of the number change. “The number that was available closest to 30 was 34 and it just happened to work out that way.’’

Campbell’s legend began at Texas where No. 20 – the same number he wore at John Tyler High School -- ran for 1,118 years and 13 touchdowns on his way to All-American status as a freshman and, eventually, won the Heisman Trophy as a senior. But when he arrived at the Houston Oilers, safety Bill Currier had No. 20, so Campbell took 34.

Campbell’s No. 20 was the first jersey the Longhorns retired (1979). The Oilers retired No. 34 in 1987.

“ I remember going to the Astrodome for the first time to play Austin Reagan in our high school state championship game,’’ Campbell said. “It seemed like a world away from Tyler, Texas.

“Little did I know that I’d be back there five years later starting another chapter in my life with the Houston Oilers and the great Bum Phillips.’’

Campbell was the first pick of the 1978 NFL draft and wasted no time establishing himself as one of the league’s most powerful running backs. He won the league rushing title with 1,450 yards and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player, All-Pro, and Rookie of the Year in his first season with the Oilers, The now 62-year-old was named to the Pro Bowl in five of his first six seasons and finished his career with 2,187 carries for 9,407 yards.

Ryan was simply amazing. Dale Murphy, a two-time National League MVP, described Ryan as “the only pitcher you start thinking about two days before you face him.” Ryan, now 70, was one of the best power pitchers of all time. His fastball was close to unhittable for much of 27-year career, as evidenced by his Major League records of 5,714 strikeouts and  seven no-hitters. His curveball wasn’t far behind.

Olajuwon’s career started slowly, because the Nigerian native wasn’t cleared by the NCAA to play his first season. He was used sparingly the next season, but after a summer working with then-Rockets center Moses Malone, Olajuwon dominated.

His inside dunks – a smooth combination of head fakes and footwork – seemed so effortless the late UH coach Guy V, Lewis said they “looked like a dream.’’ Suddenly, Olajuwon was “The Dream” and those moves were “Dream Shakes.” He helped lead the Cougars to three Final Four appearances, then dominated inside with the Rockets.

The 34s are just three of the players who will be honored at the Houston Sports Awards at the Hilton Americas. Ten other awards honoring professional, college and high school athletes, as well as awards  for sportsmanship and lifetime achievement will be given Feb. 8.

Nominations are open to the public. For more information on the awards and to submit a nomination, go to www.houstonsportsawards.com

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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