They’re (No Longer) Here…

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October 20, 2004
They’re (No Longer) Here…

by Ric Sweeney

Tomorrow, the Astros will play a decisive, winner take all game 7 in their Championship series with the Cardinals. It is, without question, the biggest game in franchise history.

And I’m not the least bit worried. You shouldn’t be, either. It’s in the bag, people. Boston, here we come.

And it’s not because I have the utmost confidence in starter Roger Clemens, though, obviously, I do. No, the Astros’ remarkable story will continue because of the newest addition to the Houston sports scene.

Somewhat under the radar of the three NLCS games played this past weekend at the Juice Box, the Texans stormed into Tennessee on Sunday and went Buffy on the team formerly known as our own personal black cloud. Houston’s 20-10 thumping of the Titans was more than just a historic win for our young football team; it was an exorcism for an entire city that once lived under the rule of a hapless organization that marred our every attempt at legitimacy.

Ding, dong, Bud is dead.

Not too terribly long ago, the Oilers’ cataclysmic failures – which, by order of my doctor, I’m not allowed to discuss – cast a pall over our local sports scene, damaging our civic psyche in a way that made even Enron jealous. The Oilers did it so often, they somehow programmed us to expect disappointment at every turn. And rarely did the other area franchises fail to deliver on said disappointment.

Red Sox and Cub fans would have you believe they’ve cornered the market on put-upon, bewildered and hard-luck, but with all due respect (actually, I have no respect for those whining sissies – enough already!), they’ve got nothing on the long-suffering fans of Houston.

Since the Oilers became Houston’s first professional franchise in 1960, the Boston area’s enjoyed three World Series appearances (clinching a fourth last night), 13 NBA championships (two at the expense of the Houston Rockets) and 2 Super Bowl championships (the most recent, in 2003, won at Houston’s Reliant Stadium). Similarly, Chicago was the toast of the NBA six times and hoisted the Lombardy Trophy in 1985.

On the flipside, in their nearly 50 years of hosting professional sporting events, Houston’s home to exactly two major championships. Otherwise, our lucky citizens can pump their chests about several unheralded championships everyone’s either forgotten about (AFL) or could care less about (WNBA). In its place, we’ve witnessed postseason heartbreak that rivals Dante’s Seven Levels of Hell. Even when the Rockets broke through the spell in 1994 and again in 1995, everyone slapped a "Jordan was retired" asterisk on our celebration. Hell, Sports Illustrated didn’t even deem the back-to-back champions worthy of a leather-bound commemorative issue.

And almost the nanosecond after Dream and Glide embraced in the euphoria following their sweep of the Magic in ’95, the Oilers skipped town and it all went downhill from there: Bagwell and Biggio began collecting October zeros and the Rockets quite literally fell off the face of the planet.

But this is no longer your father’s Houston. Not anymore. The Texans’ demon-killing victory Sunday was the final nail in that coffin and it’s the latest notch in a remarkable run so far this year for the venerable H’Town.

In February, the city threw a first class party for the NFL and its breast-barring, last-second-game-winning Super Bowl. Just prior to kickoff, the Astros coaxed Roger Clemens out of retirement, joining Andy Pettitte and an overflowing bag of expectations. Next, the NBA’s defending scoring champ, Tracey McGrady, came to town, followed closely by one of baseball’s best young talents, Carols Beltran. Soon after, the city again played hostess with mostest, welcoming Barry Bonds, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza’s hair and the rest of Major League Baseball’s All-Stars.

Then August rolled up on us and things started to finally happen on the field of play. The previously underachieving (you could even say, Oiler-like) Astros put together a final finishing kick for the ages. And in the midst of all the hoopla engulfing Minute Maid Park, our pugnacious little Texans posted back-to-back wins for the first time in franchise history.

Exciting stuff, to be sure, but even as I took a swim in all the happy times, I kept a close, watchful eye on the rug underneath my feet. That’s what being an Oiler fan had done to me. But those days are now over, my friends. The Texans saw to it personally this past weekend. No longer do we have to live under the fear of failure. This is our time; as Jose Lima would implore, "Buhleaveit!"

Where this remarkable run ends, no one knows, but I hope in their jubilant postgame locker room tomorrow, the ‘Stros remember to tip their caps to their Poltergeist-slaying cousins from Reliant Park.

Ric Sweeney’s bone has a little machine.

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