The Houston AstroNOTS?

Imagine your favorite professional baseball team is consistently, well, terrible. The kind of terrible where having a .500 season after years of numerous losses makes you feel like your team made the World Series. The kind of terrible where you hardly know (if at all) the players on the team’s roster because higher-ups have fed your good guys to other teams. The kind of terrible where even the team’s farm system looks like it’s made up of kids in little league (and I’m not talking about the ones you see in the Little League World Series).

Now, imagine a new owner — not to mention Major League Baseball — steps in and makes some changes, including moving to another league. Imagine he proposes your team change its name and its uniforms. Imagine he offers lower prices on tickets and more incentives for fans to actually come to games in a ballpark that’s just more than a decade old, yet looks almost brand new because few people have packed the house since your team’s (short) World Series run seven years ago.

sportslogos.net

sportslogos.net

Doesn’t that sound just awful? Who wants to cheer for a team like that?

Oh, that’s right. I do. And so do a few others.

Believe it or not, there are still dedicated ‘Stros fans out there. They watched Craig Biggio leave without a World Series title. On the other hand, they saw guys like Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Lance Berkman, who all went to the postseason (some won World Series titles) in the past couple of years. Fans have been through a postseason — and winning season — drought. Anything — at this point — could be better than the state the Houston Astros are in now, which is why new owner Jim Crane is considering a couple of changes to the organization. These include lowering ticket prices to allowing outside food in Minute Maid Park and — most notably — changing the uniforms and team name.

But are these all good changes? Will they really attract a bigger and better fan base like the Astros has in 2005? Let’s consider the top two:

1) Changing the Astros’ name

I don’t like this idea. Sure, a new name might signify and seal a new beginning with the ‘Stros moving to the American League, but the Astros have history (unlike a lot of downtown Houston), and die-hard fans would like to keep it that way. Besides, Houston is Space City, and what else can we call the team?

2) Changing the Astros’ uniforms/team colors

I don’t mind a change such as this one. A new look and a new logo is great for branding the team. It might drive retail sales and such, but it would also bring a new look and feel to an already-existing team that needs a huge boost.

Thoughts?

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One hundred days until the draft, one step closer to the Super Bowl

Call me crazy for thinking about April already, but the bittersweet ending to the Houston Texans’ first unforgettable playoff run has left me more anxious for a new season than ever before.

Needless to say, Sunday’s loss was absolutely heartbreaking for me. In fact, “heartbreaking” might be an understatement. My legs were shaking the entire time. I yelled and screamed and bawled for longer than a normal person should once the game was over. I felt the same pain that was stricken across Andre Johnson’s face on the sidelines. I didn’t want to see the road end here, but the Texans went farther and overcame more than anyone gave them credit for, which is beyond what any fan could want from his or her team.

Andre Johnson watches the final minutes of the fourth quarter in the Jan. 15 game vs. Baltimore (Houston Chronicle)

Andre Johnson watches the final minutes of the fourth quarter in the Jan. 15 game vs. Baltimore (Houston Chronicle)

Since Sunday, I’ve been through a series of ups and downs. I’ve spent a large chunk of these past couple of days reflecting on that game — certain players’ mistakes, the ridiculous turnovers and — most importantly — what can be done in the offseason to avoid these mistakes. Not once did I consider the “what ifs” regarding whether Matt Schaub or Mario Williams had been healthy the entire season. When your team gets this far without them, why bother?

I’m not saying the Texans don’t need these guys. Of course they need Schaub, Super Mario, Foster, Andre Johnson, Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt, Owen Daniels, James Casey, Connor Barwin…the list goes on. With these guys and Wade Phillips (thank goodness!) returning, the Texans are poised to be 2012-2013 AFC Champions — even Super Bowl Champions.

But to truly contend for a title, you need to have every piece of the puzzle. That means Houston needs to evaluate what it truly needs to complete its puzzle this offseason, which I believe begins with one major piece: A reliable wide receiver.

I’m not suggesting the Texans draft a wide receiver solely based on Jacoby Jones’ less-than-stellar performance against Baltimore. I’ve never had faith in Jacoby to get the job done, and he sealed my lack of faith in him with his mistakes against the Ravens. I’m also certainly not suggesting the Texans draft a wide receiver to replace Johnson. However, with Johnson’s injuries these past couple of years, it couldn’t hurt to have one more guy lightening the veterans’ load on the field.

Jacoby Jones bobbles a punt early in the Jan. 16 game against Baltimore (Houston Chronicle)

Jacoby Jones bobbles a punt early in the Jan. 16 game against Baltimore (Houston Chronicle)

The Texans could also use a cornerback, another linebacker and key guys on offense. Luckily, they have guys in place (if they stay healthy) to completely dominate the division next season. No one can deny they’ve made excellent draft picks in the past couple of years, and if the trend continues, I believe we have a Super Bowl-contending team in Houston for 2012.

Houston has 100 days to think about the draft. It also has 100 days to reflect on its best season yet, even if the playoff run ended prematurely. I’ll be counting down these 100 days and thinking about every highlight from this season, including my favorite:

Until then, I’ll leave you with this: GO TEXANS, and see you in New Orleans Feb. 3, 2013.

Riding a Texans playoff high

In my last blog post, I explained how Dec. 11, 2011 was the best day in Houston Texans history.

Andre Johnson celebrates his first playoff touchdown (Houston Chronicle)

Andre Johnson celebrates his first playoff touchdown (Houston Chronicle)

Take that day, multiply my happiness by infinity, add the Texans’ first playoff victory in franchise history, subtract the numerous players who suffered injuries this season and you get the most unforgettable game in Houston professional football history since the Oilers’ playoff meltdown in ’94 (or — for me — Sept. 8, 2002, when the Texans defeated the Cowboys in their first game, and I fell in love with the team).

I replay Saturday’s 31-10 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in my mind constantly. It’s still so vivid —  the loudest Reliant Stadium crowd I’ve ever heard on TV, the initial touchdown by Arian Foster (and his sweet haircut), Andre Johnson’s first score in a playoff game (after going almost a decade without ever experiencing what it’s like to play in the postseason with his team) and — of course — the game-changing pick six from rookie J.J. Watt. Let’s not forget how T.J. Yates looked like anything but a rookie, and the defense was on top of its game (thanks, Wade Phillips!).

Arian Foster's haircut (Houston Chronicle)

Arian Foster's haircut (Houston Chronicle)

Since that game, I’ve been riding a high. To have followed this team since its inception and go through a decade-long emotional roller coaster makes Saturday’s victory sweeter than anything in the world. Now that roller coaster is going up, and it can only continue in this direction now that the Texans have had a taste of playoff football.

I’m aware Houston faces its toughest challenge yet with a road game against a potent defense at Baltimore and a crowd in M&T Bank Stadium that will be as loud as the one in Reliant Stadium last weekend. This test won’t be easy, but I have faith the Texans might surprise many people (or at least those who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, which — I’ve noticed — is becoming quite full. :)).

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, one thing’s for sure: I’ve never been prouder of the Houston Texans, and no one can take this feeling away from me.

J.J. Watt celebrates his interception against the Bengals (San Antonio Express-News)

J.J. Watt celebrates his interception against the Bengals (San Antonio Express-News)

Dec. 11, 2011: The best day in Houston Texans history (so far)

Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 is — without a doubt — the best day thus far in Houston Texans franchise history. There is no simpler or better way to explain how exciting this day truly is, not only for the team, but for longtime Texans fans like myself. The Houston Texans are AFC South Champions, and they’re going to the playoffs!

HoustonTexans.com

HoustonTexans.com

I’ve been a fan of this young team since Sept. 8, 2002, which marks the first game — and victory — in franchise history. It was against the Dallas Cowboys, and I fell in love with the Houston Texans instantly.

Since that day, I — like every other devoted Texans fan I know — have been on an emotional roller coaster with this team. The nine seasons of ups and downs, inconsistencies and trying to understand why “idiots” were put in power to make such terrible draft picks and coaching decisions was something I had to suffer from the beginning. I expressed my heartbreak and frustration by writing letters to Bob McNair and my “Declaration of Independence from the Houston Texans” in Sharpie on an old football (it was an assignment for my government class during my senior year of high school).

But the past has been easier to tolerate this season, especially after watching my team overcome injury after injury, having them put rookies in the most crucial games and going against all the haters and/or nonbelievers. It’s taken a long time to get to a point where Texans players, coaches and fans can say, “WE’RE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS!” Now that we finally can, the feeling is so unreal.

I was at the victory against the New England Patriots Jan. 3, 2010 when the Texans posted their first winning season in franchise history. I remember watching Andre Johnson smile when talking about how great it was to finally reach this milestone, but he was cautious. He craved playoffs. He wanted a chance to play in the Super Bowl. Now he has that chance, and no one can take it away.

My best friend, Michelle, and I celebrating the Texans' first winning season

My best friend, Michelle, and I celebrating the Texans' first winning season

I thought watching the Titans lose for the Texans to clinch the AFC South was the best part about the victory. It was sweet revenge with the former Oilers losing for Houston to become division champions. But it’s certainly not the best part about the win. The best part is knowing No. 80 will get to experience the playoffs. He — more than any player on this team — deserves to be in the playoffs after all he’s done for the franchise and everything he’s been through. Watching videos of fans cheering his name outside of Reliant Stadium gave me goosebumps, and I can only imagine what that moment was like for him.

I will never forget Sept. 8, 2002, nor will I forget Jan. 3, 2010. And now, Dec. 11, 2011 is forever etched in my mind as one of the greatest days of my life. Perhaps Feb. 5, 2012 will also be a day I’ll never forget for similar reasons. 🙂

Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub (HoustonTexans.com)

Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub (HoustonTexans.com)

Why not T.J. Yates?

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

While other conferences become stronger, WAC appears weaker

Conference realignment has been a topic of conversation for at least two years. So much has happened since the beginning in which Nebraska left the Big 12 to join the Big 10 that it’s almost hard to keep up with everything that followed (although you can find a pretty up-to-date, useful and thorough explanation here).

For me, I started following conference realignment news closely when Boise State announced its intention to leave the Western Athletic Conference and join the Mountain West Conference. Initially, after Texas State students approved a referendum for a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2007, I didn’t think the Bobcats would be invited to join any conference. Several factors played into this, especially the lack of attendance at home games, which was one of the major benchmarks the university needed to meet to come anywhere close to playing in the FBS.

For awhile, I thought Texas State might get an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference. It made some sense geographically, but it wasn’t ideal to me. In my fantasy sports world, I’d hoped Texas State would join Conference-USA and establish rivals against schools like Rice and Houston. But with the Bobcats’ lack to put even 15,000 fans in the stands when Houston had nearly twice that number at Robertson Stadium against opponents, I figured my dreams of seeing Texas State in C-USA would never come true.

And then two major factors came into play: WAC teams were dropping like flies in the summer of 2010, which led people to believe the WAC would fold. The second factor? Texas-San Antonio not only started building a football team — the university gained a huge advantage in its hope to play in the FBS by hiring on Larry Coker in 2009, who led the Hurricanes to a national title in 2001.

Once these factors came into play, WAC commissioner Karl Benson made swift moves by inviting Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Denver (a non-football school) to the WAC. While Texas State had reached its goals of playing in the FBS, the reality was the WAC was — and still is — struggling to remain a conference with just seven of its 10 future members having football programs.

Fast forward almost a year later, and after more conference realignment moves, C-USA and the MWC announce they’re joining forces, another move that makes the WAC appear even weaker. What school wants to join a conference in which its longtime members have left to join a “mega-conference?”

With this recent news and other factors in play, I don’t see a bright future for the WAC, but I hope for the opposite with Texas State and Texas-San Antonio. Can the WAC survive? Could the Bobcats switch conferences? What are your thoughts?

Go…Tigers?

First there was the September collapse of the Red Sox, capped off by one of the craziest and most historic nights of baseball on Sept. 28. Then the Tigers defeated the Yankees to move onto the ALCS while the Cardinals set out to prove to the Phillies that having arguably the best pitching staff in the league still won’t get you to the World Series, thanks to Chris Carpenter. On top of that, the Rangers quickly eliminated the Rays before the Brewers dashed the Diamondbacks’ (and my) hopes at a championship.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we’re left with Detroit, Texas, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Did we expect this? I sure didn’t. I thought the Rangers might make another run, but I didn’t anticipate going into this round of the playoffs without seeing the Red Sox, Yankees and the Phillies.

I hoped for a Phillies-Red Sox World Series and wanted to see Hunter Pence finally win a title. But the Texas State Bobcat in me was rooting for Arizona and Paul Goldschmidt to make it all the way. Talk about sweet victory as a rookie…

Now, the question is: Who do I root for in these playoffs? Do I go the route of supporting my beloved home state and cheer for the Rangers? Do I stick to cheering for the National League with the Brewers, even though they knocked the D-backs out of the playoffs? One thing’s for sure: I can’t go for the Cardinals, even if they do have Lance Berkman. The Astros love to hate St. Louis, and that will never change.

So, Go Tigers? I mean, they have Jose Valverde, who’s taken them this far, and they eliminated the Yankees. That’s a huge plus.

Who are you rooting for to take the 2011 World Series title?