Can You Manufacture a Rivalry?

Photo by Steven Wilke - used by permission

In the summer of 2002 I had the luxury of going to Wrigley field to witness a Cubs-Cardinals game.  The crowd was about 60% Cubs fans and 40% Cardinals fans along with of course two Astros fans, my Dad and myself (they were in first place at the time so everybody hated us).

I had heard all my life about the rivalry and had witnessed it on television, but was joyfully amazed when I got to see it in person.  Fans, who are always passionate about their teams, had stepped it up to a new level to cheer on their team against their hated rival.

I was amazed but also somewhat jealous that my team didn’t possess something similar.  Only one of my teams has a definitive rival that I could love to hate like Cubs and Cardinals fans do, unfortunately even that has come to an abrupt ending.

I’ve watched the Texas Longhorns play football for as long as I can remember.  Although I have no family ties to the university I’ve always wanted to wear burnt orange.  My short tenure as a University of Texas student was a dream come true because I got to see my team up close and personal.  Naturally I screwed that all up…but that’s a story for another day.

Being a Longhorn fan meant that I was supposed to hate anything that had to do with Texas A&M.  To me anyone who went to A&M or was planning on going to A&M was a backwards redneck who didn’t know his right from his left.  That is of course until I married into a family of them.

Only in the past four or five years have I been introduced to a lot of very interesting and inspiring things that go on in Aggieland which has lessened my dislike for the school and caused me to actually enjoy many things about it.  That can’t get back to my family, of course, because it would diminish my opportunities to tell Aggie jokes like this one: Why is ice no longer available at Aggie sporting events?  Because the student who knew the recipe graduated last year.

These two schools have always split our great state in half (no, Tech fans, you don’t count at all), and unfortunately, thanks to greedy and jealous tactics on both sides, a rivalry that has lasted generations has come to an end.  Now the two are no different to one another than any other Division 1 school in the country.  It is a sad thing that will forever change Thanksgiving Day in the state of Texas.  The only question is where does each team go next?

The Aggies will look for a rival in the SEC, but Arkansas, LSU, Alabama, or any other school will never quite equal up to the tradition of a 100 plus year in-state rivalry.  Will Aggie fans link up and sway back and forth to represent sawing off a Tiger’s tale?  Will they change the words of the War Hymn to “Goodbye to Louisiana State University, So long to the purple and gold?”  Or is it possible to have a rival that you don’t play for seven or eight years?

The Longhorns will focus on their rivalry with Oklahoma, but it won’t be the same.  Hating OU in Texas is a given.  My wife and I were once walking in public, her in a maroon Aggie sweatshirt, me in my orange Longhorn shirt when a man wearing an OU pullover came and asked us “man is there anything you guys agree on?”  I responded as nicely as I could, “ya we both hate you.”

No rivalry in Texas will ever be as big as the one between Texas and Texas A&M.  However, Bud Selig and all his cohorts in Major League Baseball believe they can create something similar by moving the Houston Astros to the American League West with the Texas Rangers.  They are trying to manufacture a rivalry that does not belong.

I’ve already voiced my strong opinions on the matter, but unfortunately my letter did little good.  They found an easy way to do it by strong arming a new owner and giving him what it seems he cares about most, money.  I have no intention of hiding my dislike for what Jim Crane has said and done so far as the Astros owner, but once again…that’s another story.

For now, the fact that the game has decided to “create” this rivalry between two teams in the same state, rather than admit the fact that they shouldn’t have moved the Brewers to the National League in the first place 17 years ago is what disturbs me the most.  Will the Rangers/Astros be like the Cardinals/Cubs or Yankees/Red Sox in twenty years?  Who knows?

I do know that a rivalry should develop rather than be artificially created.  I would like more than proximity to be involved.  Officially the Yankees are closer to the Baltimore Orioles, but that doesn’t make them great rivals.  A history (of bitter hate) between the Red Sox and the Yankees has driven that rivalry for 90 years.

From experience I can tell you that a lot of Texas baseball fans enjoy watching their team play, but will also casually root for the other Texas team.  Now they will be forced to hate that other team despite the amicable relationship the two have had for years.  It will be an unnatural transition that many Texas fans (including myself) are not looking forward to.

Good rivalries are enriched in tradition and history, and are very good for sports.  I understand the want to develop a rivalry, but I believe that Major League Baseball is going about it the wrong way.  Unfortunately on the other hand, the people at Texas and Texas A&M had a great thing and ruined it.  It is a shame when the suits make business decisions that negatively affect the coaches, players, and fans.  Those are the people who lose the most with the elimination of the state’s best rivalry.

Maybe I’m bitter because my sports world is being turned upside down in ways I don’t agree with.  Maybe in the future the Rangers/Astros rivalry will be one of the best in the game.  Lastly, maybe I’m a little bit relieved because deep down I know my kids will eventually go to Texas A&M and it will make wearing maroon to support them a little easier.  I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m sad to say that for the most part, I’m not looking forward to it at all.  In the end I will continue loving my teams unconditionally.

Despite the fact that the Astros are the worst team in the league and are determined to sell off any players whom the fans recognize; and that the Texas administrators are money hungry business men who ran off their long-time rival.  I guess bad baseball is better than no baseball, and even though I won’t have an excuse to tell them, I’ll always have Aggie jokes.  Which reminds me, did you hear about the library at Texas A&M that burned down?  It was a shame because about half of the books hadn’t been fully colored in yet.  The OU library burned as well, their book could not be saved.

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John Briese

John Briese is Not Your Usual Sports Guy. One need only look at his tattered collection of Astros, Texans and Longhorn paraphernalia to see that. He was very lucky to have married his wife, Hannah, graciously looking past her misguided allegiance to the Aggies, Rangers and Cowboys.

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Why Couldn’t I Have Been Born in New York?

Photo by Eric Kilby

Sports fans, at least real sports fans, are run by proximity.  Where you live or where you grew up dictates your favorite sports teams.  Yes, there are those people who were born and raised ten minutes from where the Rangers and Cowboys play who mysteriously wind up Yankees and Steelers fans, but we don’t really count them.

I was born in the Houston area and have had an Astros hat on my head for as long as I can remember.  I grew up listening to Milo Hamilton on the radio calling out names like Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Glenn Davis, and Jeff Bagwell.  I used to practice in the mirror Craig Reynolds’ batting stance, how he held the bat lackadaisical on his shoulder until the pitch came and he hit a screaming liner over the shortstop’s head.  When he was playing, I told everyone that Kevin Bass and I had the same birthday, I guess because I thought it made him and me both special.  I even have a dog named Biggio (a name my Rangers fan of a wife was not too fond of to start out).  I am an Astros fan through and through, a trait I have had to keep to myself lately.

In the summer of 2010 I was flabbergasted to see my team trade off two faces of the franchise for the past decade, Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, for a few prospects that might be decent.  In the back of my mind though I believed that a fresh start would be needed, and all this team needed was some young blood to keep it going.  After all we still had an outfield made up of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence; if we could get another key young piece we would be in good shape.

A year later Bourn and Pence, the only recognizable faces at this point on the team, were traded away for what seemed like a bucket of balls and a case of Big League Chew. All of a sudden, my team has fallen apart…little did I know it would only get worse.

The next fall my team, a member of the National League since its inception in 1962 would officially move to the American League West, and for the first time in my life make me actually question my allegiance to the team I have loved my entire life. For a short, very stressful time this baseball offseason I considered abandoning my team for a team that I now live closer to, and who’s owner is a man I’ve looked up to my entire life; the Texas Rangers.  After hours of deep thought and consideration I decided that doing that would make me no better than the fans that cuss the local team while donning a Yankees hat.  Like it or not, I am stuck with the Astros.

After clearing my head of the possible treason that I had considered, I got to thinking about what my life was going to be like over the next few years.  I still have one good year to root for the Rangers until they wind up in the same division as the Astros, but it will not be the same.  I had to physically sit down and make a list of things that would make this season a success for the Houston Astros.
It is inevitable that they will go 60-102, even in a division that lost Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.  They will play in front of small crowds at home and on the road because they do not have one name that will really draw fans to the ballpark.  The only people at Minute Maid Park this year will be the hardcore fans that refuse to turn their back on their team (even though they really want to), business men taking out potential clients (who will to themselves say “You brought me to an Astros game?  You’re not getting my business”), and losers who are willing to jump out of the way of a foul ball so it will hit their girlfriend.  Real fans though will find success in ways that do not include the win column. Things that they will be looking for are:

  • Can Jason Castro, Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson, or Jose Altuve emerge as a legitimate star in the Major Leagues?  It would be great if two, three, or even all of them did, but getting one solid all-star out of that group would be fantastic.
  • Can Wandy Rodriguez become a top-flight starter?  We have seen shades of excellence on and off from Wandy for a few years, if he could become a solid starter that we can count on it would be a major step for this team.  He will no doubt lose some games due to lack of run support, but going .500 last season on a team as bad as the Astros is something to be proud of.  Can he do even better this season?
  • Can Jordan Lyles or J.A. Happ fulfill their potential and, well there is no better way to put this, not suck? Lyles is very young, so he may just need some maturing, but Happ doesn’t have that excuse.  If we could manage to get one decent starter out of the two of them it would be a huge win for the club.  They will need more depth in the rotation moving into the more offensive friendly American League next year.
  • Will Carlos Lee just do us all a favor and quit?  Every business has that guy who you would love to get rid of but can’t.  He may be the boss’ son or nephew, or he may be holding something over management.  In the Astros case they are buried underneath a contract that no one in the world would touch.  “El Cabello” was great when he was hitting .300 with 30 homers, but his numbers have steadily decreased since the first year he was with the team. At the pace he is on, he is set to hit .260 this season with 14 home runs.  Hell, I bet Jeff Bagwell could still do that, we should sign him.
  • What will Jim Crane do next to piss me off?  The move to the American League to fill his pockets, talk of name changes and flattening Tal’s Hill (yes, I know it is dumb, but I have become fond of it), all of these have almost driven me to the edge.  I hope that he can trust his front office and take a step back because I seem to dislike him more and more every time he opens his mouth.  Right now he belongs in a category next to David Carr, the 1992 Buffalo Bills, and dare I say, Bud Adams.

It is going to be a long season, but as I said, we may be able to find some small victories amongst the rubble. I understand Crane’s logic when he says that the payroll needs to stay small until our farm system builds, but that does not mean you should sign nobody.

While Jose Reyes would not have done this team any good (and probably would not have come here anyway for any amount of money) throwing us a bone would have been nice.  There is not one player on this team whose jersey I would buy because there is not one player that I can guarantee will be there for a long period.

I am not looking forward to the next few years as an Astros fan; I do not think anyone is.  It is going to be a losing battle that we will face every single night on Fox Sports.

When I first moved to the DFW area I cussed my cable company because I couldn’t get Fox Sports Houston to watch the Astros games.  Now I cuss them because I do get that channel and am forced to watch my team continually get stomped while the Rangers play quality baseball two channels down.  Pretty soon making children watch Astros games will be equated with child abuse.  It will become a popular form of punishment for children who get bad grades or refuse to eat their vegetables.

We do not get to pick where we were born, we are stuck with what we get.  While I love Houston and all my teams, I am wondering if, for my children’s sake, I should move to a place like New York so maybe they will not have to go through the agony that I have.  While I suffer they could know every spring that their team has a shot at the title, and will never have to question their loyalty to the team they love so much.

I long for the days of the “Killer B’s” and listening to Milo scream “Holy Toledo!” after a Bagwell home run, but those days are over. Milo will do his farewell tour this year and the Astros will say goodbye to the National League.  A new leaf will be turned over, and despite all my gripes and complaints, I will be turning with it.  There are days (like today for example) when I become jealous of the Yankees and Red Sox fans that have hope for their team every season, but in the end I am glad I am an Astros fan.  Being born in New York would have made my life easier as a sports fan, but who knows what other frustrations it would have brought.

I can only end by saying what I say to everyone who makes a comment about the Astros hats that sit on top of my head, “They suck, but they are MINE.  I love my Astros.”

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John Briese

John Briese is Not Your Usual Sports Guy. One need only look at his tattered collection of Astros, Texans and Longhorn paraphernalia to see that. He was very lucky to have married his wife, Hannah, graciously looking past her misguided allegiance to the Aggies, Rangers and Cowboys.

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Looks Like Tiger is Done

Photo credit: Wikipedia

There was a time in my life when I could walk out on the golf course and shoot no higher than 85 any day of the week.  While that may not sound stellar to some, the ability to walk out and manage to not embarrass myself was a blessing, not to mention it was slightly less agitating and stressful.

Notice I said, “there was a time in my life” (yes I just quoted myself from two lines ago) because that was the past.  The last time I played 18 holes and honestly kept score I wound up staring at a 108 on the scorecard.  Needless to say, I got my money’s worth.  The 20-stroke transition did not happen overnight, but it did happen quicker than I expected.  Slowly I became happy with a round in the 90’s, and then found myself complacent with a round that consisted of one or two “good” shots.  It took a while, but I finally came to the realization that I was done being a decent golfer, and would be reduced to being the D player on the weekly scramble team.   While not quite on the same level, I believe that it may be time for Tiger Woods to make the same realization.

Tiger was the best that ever teed it up on the PGA tour or anywhere else.  His dominance lasted for twelve years before his golf game, love life, and personal reputation all crashed into a fire hydrant in November of 2009. Since then he has not won a PGA event, and has disappointed his fans and those who still believed he had it in him repeatedly.

Personally, I kept waiting to see the Tiger of old come out of his shell and run away from the competition on a Sunday the way he used to.  I thought he would do it at the Masters last year…he did not.  Then I thought the U.S. Open would be the stage for his grand comeback…it was not.  Finally, this weekend arrived.  All he needed was a good off season to get his head straight and his swing back on line.  Three rounds in the 60’s and he was back.  In the next to last group on Sunday paired with Phil Mickelson at Pebble Beach, it looked like he had returned to his old self.  We saw shades of the former Tiger, the one who was going to own every record ever written.  The one whom everyone imitated but no one would ever come close to.  Then…he blew it…again.

While he is not necessarily the D player on the scramble team, shooting a worse score than the amateur your playing with (a nice round for Romo by the way) must be a wake-up call.  Is it time to say that Tiger is done?  Sadly, I believe so.

I knew that someday I would watch and say to myself, “you know he just doesn’t have it any more”.  I believed though that it would not be for another 15-20 years. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that Tiger Woods, The Tiger Woods, would seem washed up at the age of 36.

I can hear you already yelling at the drastic nature of anyone calling Tiger “washed up”.  It is true; I may be taking it a bit far.  I believe though, that we must all come to the realization that his reign is finally over.

For two years, I have stood amidst laughter and sarcastic sexual references about him, all the while saying, “just wait, he’ll come back, and when he does you better watch out”.  Finally, it is time to grasp the fact that I was wrong (a feat that does not happen often).  This however is harder to comprehend then my own golfing downfall was.  It is difficult to watch a legend that we have adored for years fall apart both personally and professionally.  How do you react to the demise of someone who once seemed infallible?  It is impossible to put into words.

I am not saying that Tiger Woods will never win another golf tournament.  I am saying though that he will never be the Tiger that we once knew.

It reminds me of the only time I got to see Michael Jordan play in person.  It was 2002; he was 39 and playing for the Washington Wizards.  At times he showed flashes of greatness gliding across the floor and occasionally showing glimpses of the tongue waggling Jordan I had watched my entire life.  However, for most of the game, he resembled an old man that needed to be wearing a suit at the game rather than a jersey.

I’m sure Tiger will still find ways to hit a cut punch 210 yards from under a tree and around a TV tower to split two bunkers and roll to eight inches, it just won’t happen as often.  We can all find those shades of greatness from time to time.

Last time I played, I had a string of three pars and a birdie.  I almost had myself tricked into believing I was back; then I shanked two balls out of bounds on a short par 4 and holed a 12-foot putt for a 10.  It happens to all of us, even the great ones; at some point in your life, you will come to realize, I am “done”.

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John Briese

John Briese is Not Your Usual Sports Guy. One need only look at his tattered collection of Astros, Texans and Longhorn paraphernalia to see that. He was very lucky to have married his wife, Hannah, graciously looking past her misguided allegiance to the Aggies, Rangers and Cowboys.

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Here We Go Again

My world is filled with moments of greatness followed by inevitable moments of sudden frustration and despair that bring me back down to earth in a fiery crash.  The potential is always through the roof, just enough to give me hope and say to myself “this time it will be different”, only it always ends up the same.  Like when I’m standing in line at the gas station and the $80 million lotto jackpot sign catches my eye and I say, “You know I could win that”, so I get excited and begin counting down the hours until the drawing that will change my life forever.  It’s all I can think about and finally the moment, the “it’s really going to happen this time” moment arrives and leaves me amazed that I could fool myself yet again into thinking it would be different this time.  I am part optimist, part masochist; I am a Houston Texans fan.

My beloved Texans have tormented me now for nine years, but no matter what happens, how badly they play, or how immensely frustrating they can be; I always believe in them.  Yes, it is true that they are the ultimate heart-breakers and they let me down most weeks of the year, but I can’t help but trust in the fact that they will come through for me someday.  We aren’t necessarily in the same category as the Chicago Cubs or the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox, but in our short history we have had our share of Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman moments.  If you are a Texans fan I have to warn you, what follows is a horrific detail of memories from the past that you had hoped were gone forever.  If you are in any kind of vulnerable emotional state I recommend you stop reading and refresh your mind with thoughts of a happier time.

Expansion teams are supposed to be bad, so no one had high expectations for the Texans in 2002.  Despite the fact that the last two expansion teams, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars had BOTH not only gone to the playoffs their second year in existence, but were both in their respective conference championships only one game away from the Super Bowl.  We were all just happy to see football again.  We had a number one overall pick, a beautiful new stadium, an owner who really loved his team and his city, and most importantly no Bud Adams.  Beating the Cowboys in their inaugural game was icing on the cake, we all knew that they had gone 5-11 the two seasons prior, so we didn’t think that one win meant instant Super Bowl contenders.  It was encouraging though and gave me my first bit of confidence that my team wasn’t going to be that bad.  Man was I naive.

Fast forward to the 2004 season.  The Texans are 7-8 going into the last week of the season, and the 3-12 Browns are the only thing standing between them and their first ever non-losing season.  They were coming off of a huge road trip that ended in a 24-5 win in Chicago and a 21-0 shutout against the hated Jaguars.  I was flying high thinking that they could finish the season at .500 and take that momentum into the 2005 season and gain their first ever playoff berth.  I (living in Cowboys country) had told all my friends that it only took two seasons of losing to get it together, then a .500 season followed by a playoff berth, giving way to a Super Bowl in 2006.  In my mind I was two seasons away from my team winning a championship.  Sounds like a nice story huh? Well…David Carr was sacked six times while the Texans helped the Browns end a nine game losing streak week 17 and the finished the season  7-9.  A NINE GAME LOSING STREAK!!!!!!!  That was the first time my team would get my hopes up only to have them squashed like a bug.  Not just any bug, like a roach that you have been chasing around the house for hours, tennis shoe in hand, screaming and yelling until his streak of elusiveness runs out and you finally catch him hitting him over and over out of frustration.  I was that roach and the Texans were that tennis shoe.  If I thought that was bad though, the next season that tennis shoe turned into a sledgehammer pounding me deeper than I thought I could ever go.

The Texans went 1-3 in the 2005 preseason, but going into the season I still had hopes.  “The Browns game was just a fluke” I would tell everyone, “the Texans are going to the playoffs this year”.  I distinctly remember a conversation before the season began with a friend of mine who said that the Texans looked like the worst team in the league and that David Carr was going to go down as one of the biggest busts in draft history.  I told him he was a fool and that I would have the last laugh come playoff time.  Well… Week 1 David Carr went 9-21 for 70 yards and three interceptions in a 22-7 loss to the Bills followed by a 27-7 loss to the Steelers week 2.  Thank goodness they had a bye week 3 so they could regroup and come back strong.  Week 4 and 5 Carr was sacked a total of 14 times in losses to the Bengals and Titans.  Week 6 they lost 42-10 to the Seahawks and Week 7 the Dallas/Fort Worth CBS affiliate stopped showing their games, that was Sunday October 23.  Three days later on the 26th the White Sox completed their sweep of the Astros in the World Series; that was a pretty rough week for me.  Up until Week 7 of the 2005 season they had shown every Texans game as long as it wasn’t the same time and on the same channel as the Cowboys game.  I guess enough people called in to complain about watching David Carr get knocked on his back for three hours that they decided to show other games from then on out.  In the five season since they have mostly only shown Texans games if they are playing the Colts (or the Cowboys of course), causing me to spend $300 a year on NFL Sunday Ticket.  They have such disdain for the Texans that it is almost like they enjoy notshowing their games.  In Week 15 of the 2008 season the 12-2 Titans were visiting the 7-7 Texans, but CBS 11 decided that it would be better to air the Ryan Fitzpatrick led 2-11 Bengals vs. the Redskins.  This is the world I live in.

The 2005 season probably would have broken me had I not found fantasy football and had something else to root for other than my 2-14 Texans.  My friend had been right and all my hopes and dreams had been squandered.  We were back to square one and it would take another couple of years to build up the confidence in my team that I had before week 17 of the 2004 season.  In 2006 they finally beat the Colts with a last second field goal, then in 2007 they beat Jacksonville (who were 11-4 coming in) in week 17 to go 8-8.  Despite the first non losing season in Texans history I was still pessimistic about their chances going into the 2008 season.  I held this pessimism until one day in August I came home from work and found my ESPN magazine with Mario Williams on the cover.  The headline read “We Like the Texans (to make the playoffs at least)”.  I couldn’t help myself after that and I once again was caught up in the hype.  It was like I always said, a .500 season, the playoffs the next season, then a Super Bowl.  Matt Schaub had spent a season getting acquainted to the system and being the starter, and was leading us to the playoffs.  Week 1 comes around and they are blown out by the Steelers, then Hurricane Ike hits in Week 2.  Now I know it is probably wrong of me to complain about the fact that the storm hurt my football team’s chances of making the playoffs because it was the least important thing going on in the city at the time, but it is the truth.  They started 0-4 after the train wreck that was the Sage Rosenfels game, where he turned the ball over three times in the last four minutes of the game to allow the Colts to erase a 17 point deficit.  They had to go 8-4 the rest of the season to finish at .500, three games out of the playoffs.

The 2009 season began again, with hopes for the playoffs.  Week 3 against the Jaguars, the Texans, down by a touchdown with just over two minutes to go, have the ball on the Jaguars 2 yard line.  Two plays after a touchdown was negated by an offensive interference penalty, running back Chris Brown runs right and fumbles the ball into the end zone.  Jaguars recover the fumble and run the clock out ending in a 31-24 Jaguars victory.  This would be the first of many disappoints by the hands of Chris/Kris Brown on the season.  Two weeks later against the Cardinals the game would end after Chris Brown failed on two chances from the 1 yard line to score late in the fourth quarter.  The Texans lost that game by a touchdown as well.  Then, Weeks 9 and 10 were lost by three points each; both games ending in a Kris Brown missed field goal to tie.  They would go on to lose the next two weeks to the Jaguars and Colts putting themselves in a 5-7 hole that would be hard to dig out of.  Even after finishing the season 4-0 with a winning record for the first time ever, they missed the playoffs when Colts and Bengals laid down for the Jets after they had already clinched their own playoff spots.  The Jets won their last two games against backups and won the tiebreaker over the Texans because they beat them in Week 1.

2010 started like all the rest of the seasons, me possessing the hope that “this is the year”.  After the best win in franchise history over the Colts Week 1 and 17 point comeback win over the Redskins Week 2 I not only thought they could make the playoffs, but that they may have a shot at the wide open AFC.  So I get on my high horse and tell everyone I can how my Texans were going to beat the Cowboys Week 3 moving one game closer to an AFC title.  Once again my favorite team put me in my rightful place.  The defense couldn’t stop Tony Romo and the Cowboys, and the offense turned the ball over three times.  Once again I was the squashed bug on the kitchen tile.  This past week looked eerily similar with a 34-10 drumming by the NY Giants. Now the Texans are 3-2 and still above .500, but I’m wondering if we are at the top of a slippery slope that we always seem to be on.  I can feel the hope inside of me falling further down that hill with every long pass the secondary gives up, and looking at the Texans schedule filled with the Colts, Jets, Ravens, Chargers, and Eagles, I can see the future coming.

I still have confidence in my team, and I still believe that they can make the playoffs and possibly still win the AFC this season.  Is that optimistically stupid? Maybe; probably more like blind hope though.  If the defense can learn to make a couple stops each game the offense is good enough to where they could beat anyone.  They have a great running back in Arian Foster and the best receiver in the league in Andre Johnson, and I do believe that Sunday was just an “off-week” for them and that they can return to their dominant form next week.  I’m going to remain optimistic for the rest of the season and I sincerely hope that come January I’m not looking back to the middle of the game against the Giants when I so disappointingly muttered, “Here we go again”.

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John Briese

John Briese is Not Your Usual Sports Guy. One need only look at his tattered collection of Astros, Texans and Longhorn paraphernalia to see that. He was very lucky to have married his wife, Hannah, graciously looking past her misguided allegiance to the Aggies, Rangers and Cowboys.

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Why We Love Sports

Roy HalladayIn a world flooded with scenes like Antonio Cromartie struggling to name all of his illegitimate children and Albert Haynesworth saying he left his $21 million check lying around the house for a couple weeks; it is good to have something that reaffirms our love for sports.  Roy Halladay’s no-hitter Wednesday evening was just such an event.

Halladay, one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball over the past ten years made his post-season debut Wednesday against the National League Central champion Cincinnati Reds.  It was well known that he could be successful in the regular season, but no one knew whether or not he could handle the pressure of the post-season.  To prove possible doubters wrong he not only pitched well enough for the Phillies to win game 1, he did something that hasn’t been done in 54 years.  Halladay stunned the sports world by throwing only the second no-hitter in post-season history, the first since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

Modern sports fans are bombarded by story after story of players quitting on their team or complaining about their multi-million dollar contracts.  Every now and then though a moment comes along that makes them forget about the failing economy and their unsuccessful job search; a moment that allows them to smile and remember all the good things in life.  A moment they can grab their kids or call their friends to ensure they are enjoying it as well.  After the seventh inning of Wednesday’s Phillies-Reds game I began to think that Halladay really could finish the no-hitter.  After the eighth inning I called my wife in the room and started calling and texting friends.  Those last three outs were breath taking, watching one of the best pitchers in baseball meticulously retire batter after batter.  When Brandon Phillips dribbled a ball in front of the plate with two outs I got nervous, not only because I was afraid Carlos Ruiz might not be able to field the ball and throw out the speedy runner, but because I was fearful of another Jim Joyce/Armando Galarraga situation.  I have already said what I think about Instant Replay in baseball.  Luckily Ruiz made a great throw, finishing off one of the best performances in Major League Baseball history; and giving the fans in the stands at Citizens Bank Park and the ones watching on television a moment to remember for years.

After the last out was over, and he had celebrated with his team on the field, Halladay went over to speak with reporters who were eagerly waiting for him by the Phillies dugout.  The first thing he told David Aldridge was how great his catcher Carlos Ruiz had been that night and all season.  He didn’t come out and say “well, my changeup is just unhittable” (even though it was) or “hey, I’m the best pitcher in the game, what did you expect?” (even though he is).  He came out and thanked the man behind the plate who had orchestrated the whole thing, constantly saying that “we” did it.  He basically looked like the perfect role model, and the kind of person that kids now-a-days should be looking up to.  He also gave sports fans (especially those with children) hope that the sports fans of the future will have someone to look up to that doesn’t get arrested for driving drunk at four in the morning, or shoot themselves in the leg walking into a night club.

There have always been disparities in sports role models, as long as sports have been a public infatuation. Thankfully, for every Ty Cobb there was a Lou Gehrig, and for every Barry Bonds there is a Tony Gwynn. Unfortunately in the modern world with cameras following our role models everywhere they go, catching every intimate moment of their lives, the Peyton Mannings and Cal Ripkens of the world seem to be few and far between.  That is why we have learned to appreciate a Roy Halladay, who went out for ten years working his butt off despite playing for a team that had as little a chance to make the playoffs every year as any, before he got his shot this season with the Phillies.

John Briese’s in-depth look at this week’s NFL schedule can be found at http://notyourusualsportsguy.blogspot.com/2010/10/week-5.html

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John Briese

John Briese is Not Your Usual Sports Guy. One need only look at his tattered collection of Astros, Texans and Longhorn paraphernalia to see that. He was very lucky to have married his wife, Hannah, graciously looking past her misguided allegiance to the Aggies, Rangers and Cowboys.

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Have We Forgiven or Just Forgotten?

Ben RoethlisbergerEditor’s note: All of my sons are fanatical about the National Football League (which must be pronounced in the voice of the late John Facenda). Only one of them, however, chooses to write about this obsession extensively.

If one of your friends was accused of sexually assaulting a young girl while out partying one night, would you be able to forgive him? What about your favorite NFL Quarterback? Does Ben Roethlisberger get a pass because he is a big time QB, because he’s won two Super Bowls, or because Pittsburgh fans, despite a 3-1 start don’t want to go the rest of the season with Charlie Batch under center? Roethlisberger was not officially charged with a crime by the Milledgville, GA police this past March, but he did do enough to warrant a suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that cost him over $1.8 million in salary.

A week from Sunday when Roethlisberger takes the field for the first time against the Cleveland Browns, we will find out how the fans at Heinz Field really feel about their Super Bowl winning Quarterback. Odds are they will take them back with open arms because he is their guy. He will undoubtedly run into some boo birds on the road this season, and may even hear a few at home, but for the most part after he takes his first snap on the field, life will be back to normal. Everyone deserves a second chance, case in point Michael Vick in Philadelphia. The question is though, is it fair to wipe the slate clean after someone has done something wrong? I’ve been caught up in Michael Vick mania just like everyone else the first few weeks this season, enjoying watching one of the most dynamic players who ever played the position do things that people thought unimaginable. I watched every highlight muttering to myself how unbelievable I thought he was. I even caught myself rooting for him because deep down we all enjoy rooting for someone that possesses as much talent as he does. Then last week I was reading Bill Simmons’ article about how it makes his wife sick that he roots for Vick after all that he has done. Two sentences in I realized that I had been watching Michael Vick as if it was 2006, before any dog fighting issues had been brought public. I immediately looked down at my two dogs sitting at my feet and remembered all the horrific details of the past. It made me step back a bit and think about whom it was I was rooting for, and how I had been caught up in all the excitement of his glorious return to excellence.

Roethlisberger and Vick aren’t the only two celebrities or sports figures that the public tends to do this with. How many people remember the fact that Ray Lewis was denied his trip to Disneyworld after his Super Bowl win in February 2001 because a year before he had been facing charges of murder? Lewis was eventually only charged with obstruction of justice and didn’t face any jail time, but not before the American public could snap to the conclusion at the time that he was a murderer. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl in 2001 thanks greatly to the dominant defense that was anchored by Lewis. Since his Super Bowl win he has gone on to lead the Ravens’ defense and help his team earn playoff berths in five of the past nine years. He is still one of the top linebackers in the NFL even at the age of 35, and the “murderer” label that he was stuck with in the spring of 2000 is the furthest thing from people’s mind while they are laughing at his Old Spice commercials that air on TV today.

So the question is have we forgiven these superstars for their indiscretions or have we simply forgotten? Have the fans of the Los Angeles Lakers forgiven Kobe Bryant after he was accused of raping a young girl in the summer of 2003, or have back to back NBA championships helped actions that happened in the past slip their minds? If you see Mike Tyson walking down the street are you going to turn your nose up at a man that raped a young woman in 1992 and bit a piece of a man’s ear off in the ring six years later? Or are you going to remember his cameo in The Hangover and walk over to have a picture taken with him, asking if he really has a tiger like the one in the movie?

Roethlisberger is and will continue to be one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League, and I believe that he simply got himself into a bad situation. He was accused once before of sexual misconduct with a hostess in Lake Tahoe, but it wound up looking like a woman that thought she had found a way to earn her 15 minutes, and maybe a fat paycheck out of the ordeal. Nevertheless, Roethlisberger, even if he was the victim of false accusations (in the Tahoe incident, and the incident in Georgia) still put himself in the situation in the first place. Roethlisberger is two months older than I am, and at 28 years old you should not be perusing bars for college girls. I am currently even a college student, and still would not consider doing such a thing. Roethlisberger is even more at risk than any normal 28 year old because he is a recognizable superstar and anyone knows that if they can get a picture or account of a superstar doing something they shouldn’t be doing, they can sell it and make good money. He and other public figures have to know that everything they do is being chronicled whether they like it or not, and they have to be on their best behavior at all times. If they are not, something like this could be the ultimate result.

The Steelers welcomed back Roethlisberger for training camp, and his coaches and teammates say that they could immediately see the change in his attitude. I don’t know if it was because he was simply happy to be back to football, or the fact that he had turned over a new leaf and is anxious to start a new chapter in his life, but it looks like the entire ordeal has changed him and he is ready to focus on what is important in life. The real test will be next Sunday when he is introduced in Pittsburgh. Like I said before I would be surprised if the boos outweighed the cheers, almost as surprised as the fact that Roethlisberger doesn’t show up on my spell check (apparently Mr. Webster is a Steelers fan). I believe this because even though the Steelers fans have seen signs that Roethlisberger isn’t a person you should be rooting for in the past, they still treated him as Steel Town Royalty. In 2006, the offseason after Roethlisberger’s first Super Bowl win he came out and said that he would not wear a helmet while riding his motorcycle, only to be in an accident months later resulting in a broken jaw and a large laceration down the back of his head. It is arrogance like this, and what some say is a sense of entitlement that could turn some fans against Roethlisberger, that is, if he hadn’t lead there team to victory. Fans revered him after winning his first 13 regular season starts his rookie year, and later leading the team to two Super Bowl victories. So the question remains, how many victories will it take for fans to forget about what happened in March in Milledgville?

All of these athletes have one thing in common; they have made a big mistake that they have had to answer for, whether it be jail time or embarrassing public apologies. They all have faced an uphill battle coming back into the limelight and have managed to gain back the love and respect from fans they had lost in the past. This is not a bad thing because everyone deserves a second chance, and the right to regain the public’s trust and admiration. I’m not saying that these people should be vilified for the rest of their lives for a mistake or mistakes that they have made; I’m just saying that their past transgressions should not be wiped from our mind. I am happy that Vick, Kobe and others turned a corner and changed their lives because of past discretions, and I am glad that they have been able to be successful in their respective careers. But it leaves us with the burning question, have we forgiven or just forgotten?

John Briese’s in-depth look at this week’s NFL schedule can be found at http://notyourusualsportsguy.blogspot.com/2010/10/week-5.html

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John Briese

John Briese is Not Your Usual Sports Guy. One need only look at his tattered collection of Astros, Texans and Longhorn paraphernalia to see that. He was very lucky to have married his wife, Hannah, graciously looking past her misguided allegiance to the Aggies, Rangers and Cowboys.

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