September 27, 2006
What a Bunch of Bushit
by Ric Sweeney
Hours after the Redskins had officially kicked the Texans back to 2002, Roger Clemens was bathing in the seemingly undying applause of 44,000 strangers Sunday night at Minute Maid Park, making what is maybe, probably, likely (we’re 99.999998% certain) his final regular season start before the hometown fans. And in that moment, the difference between the two local franchises on display that day could not have been clearer.
One team has an owner who gets it; the other does not. Care to guess which is which?
Bob McNair lobbied hard and spent a great deal of money to bring professional football back to Houston. The way he’s running his franchise, however, is making a lot of people wish he hadn’t bothered. The Texans are now the worst expansion team since the AFL/NFL merger nearly 40 years ago. Inconceivably, they were worse in their fourth year of existence than they were in their first year. Even more inconceivably, this season is shaping up to be the worst one yet. And the future’s not exactly causing any of us to whip out our shades. Is there a deeper level of hell? We may soon find out.
The sad part of all of this is that McNair had a chance to make amends last April. Reggie Bush came equipped with dazzling statistics, highlight reel moves, a Heisman Trophy, and a giant eraser that would have made us all forget everything that had come before him. He was the expensive gift you apologetically give to your wife after forgetting your anniversary. And her birthday. And Valentine’s Day. Yes, last season was THAT bad. And Reggie Bush was a living, breathing apology.
Except McNair apparently didn’t feel the need to apologize to any of us for the condition of his franchise, which is nearly unfathomable considering it was up on four concrete blocks in his front yard, gathering rust and creating a massive eyesore for the entire neighborhood. No, instead he tossed a toxic mix of lighter fluid and gasoline onto a raging fire by having an extramarital affair with Mario Williams. On our bed. While we were downstairs obliviously watching Lost. Didn’t we tank games last year to secure Reggie Bush? Oh, you mean we REALLY were that bad? And so we didn’t draft Reggie Bush… why?
With one remarkably stupid decision, McNair sent his patient, understanding fans a giant “screw” coupled with a “you,” and then stepped back into his Teflon house, his sterling reputation seemingly impervious to slings and arrows.
When you have people rethinking Bud Adams’ legacy, things have gotten pretty desperate. And you know the sad part? Adams would have drafted Bush.
McLane would have, too. As (unjustly) vilified as he often is, the Astros’ owner has established a remarkably successful franchise with a knack for seizing the moment. McLane recognized in Clemens an opportunity to, yes, line his pockets with more money – let’s not all take a trip to Naïve Town and pretend there’s an owner who doesn’t want to make money – but also to create a buzz around his franchise that transcended local boundaries and spread nationally.
And man, did it ever. ESPN broadcasted Clemens’ minor league tune-ups, for heaven’s sake. Minute Maid Park drew more fans for Clemens’ return than it did for two World Series games. Writers wrote of the historical significance and baseball fans all over the country had Houston on their brains for an entire day. All this pomp and circumstance for what was, at the time, a third place team struggling to keep its head above .500 and the first-place Cardinals in their sights.
Even last Wednesday, when Clemens made his first last-ever-regular-season-start-at-Minute-Maid-Park-we-promise, we were there. The team had all but been eliminated from the postseason chase the previous weekend, but 31,000 still packed the stadium for an afternoon game to bid farewell to The Rocket. And with that, the buzz was back. Thirty-two thousand came to watch the Cards inch closer to a division title the following night…only to see the Astros win in dramatic fashion. The number swelled to 39,000 Friday night; another dramatic win, another big crowd Saturday; then an even bigger crowd Sunday…
Guys like Roger Clemens can have that kind of impact on your franchise – his presence re-ignited our interest in the team; the team then delivered on our renewed interest. Now frenzy is champing at the bit, just as it did in 2004 and again in 2005, otherwise known as the years Bob McNair apparently spent buried in a deep, dark cave.
Drafting Mario Williams is the kind of move you can get away with if you have the skins on the wall to back it up. Bill Belichick? He could have pulled it off; he’s earned the right to be trusted. And had we questioned him, he would have shoved three Super Bowl rings down our throats and shut us up.
But the Texans have no such track record; just a shattered, broken history of disappointment and seemingly endless mistakes. McNair should have recognized this, or at least had someone in the organization that recognized it and then McNair should have granted that person the autonomy to point it out. He didn’t. And he’s now sleeping in that bed.
No, Reggie Bush doesn’t solve the team’s many problems any more than Mario Williams is causing them. But Bush would have brought with him two things Williams never will: time and trust.
Draft Bush and you buy Gary Kubiak and his new staff the space they need to tear this thing apart and rebuild it. Bush would have given us a reason to get excited every Sunday despite the mounting losses… a mouthwatering appetizer while we patiently wait (again) for our five-course meal.
Instead, we’re stuck with just the mounting losses.
And yes, we’ll probably all forget Bush if the team continues on a collision course with Adrian Peterson… assuming, of course, the Texans actually would select Adrian Peterson in that scenario. From this point forward, we can no longer take anything with this franchise for granted.
And therein lies the biggest fallout from the Bush debacle – the team has now lost our trust, perhaps for good. Passing on Bush feels like the final straw in a long list of horribly misguided decisions, from hiring Casserly to keeping the roof open last September to not firing Casserly and too many to list in between.
It was initially a honeymoon – the Texans gave us flowers, put us on a pedestal, made us feel like we were the only fans in the world. Then came subtle signs; some yelling, some indifference. From there, red flags started popping all over the place – empty condom wrappers buried in the trash, verbal abuse, followed by all-out physical abuse. We retreated into our holes, frightened. They apologized, sent us candy. They had changed, they promised. We skittishly came back… and we’re now getting hit all over again.
Well, some of us are leaving for good. More will follow. This team hasn’t gotten anything right in seven-plus years of existence. Even their advertising last year was mind-numbingly awful: We Live for Sundays. Really? Do you? Because a lot of teams (they tend to be the good ones) live for Mondays, too. And some live for Saturdays, as well, especially in January when, you know, the postseason is unfolding. The entire campaign perfectly encapsulated what the Texans have been thus far: We suck… and you know what? We’re ok with that – so here’s where you can send the check for your PSL.
And as the bad decisions careen into one another and the losses continue to mount while the fan base erodes, Bob McNair has no one else to blame but himself. He had an out from this misery. Fortunately for him, we’re too engrossed in yet another Astro pennant race to care.
Ric Sweeney couldn’t shove a pine needle up the collective ass of the St. Louis Cardinals right now if he tried, which is weird because you’d think guys like Albert Pujols would be used to needles being injected into their buttocks. Snap.
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