Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Biggest Sports Story of 2010!

December 29, 2010

Which is your pick of the litter?

My own pick of the biggest sports story in 2010 may not be yours so let us hear from you as a comment to The Pecan Park Eagle. My only guidelines for even considering our options for the year were these: (1) It could be anything that had anything to do with an athlete or sport of national or international renown; and (2) It had to be something that came to mind without the help of Google or any printed form of reference. The underlying supposition here, of course, is that, if we have to look it up for a name, fact, or anything else, it could not be that big of a deal and (3) It was perfectly OK to simply consider the question from an American sports fan’s perspective since that’s what I am. I would expect Brazilians to vote something like 100% on this matter in favor of their country’s 2010 first win ever in soccer’s 2010 World Cup matches.

Along my way down memory lane, I ruled out several things, many of which would only be deemed of superior importance to the participants and fans of a particular geographical area:

(1) The biggest sports story of 2010 was not Alabama winning the NCAA Division 1 football championship for 2009. Once you get fifty miles away from from Tuscaloosa or Birmingham, Alabama, the shrine of Bear Bryant begins to lose the glow of its elephantine self-importance to the cry of neighboring war eagles.

(2) It also was not the New Orleans Saints playing and winning their first Super Bowl in history. The Saints even getting to the big game was about as random as the storm named Katrina that first inspired national sympathy for the team’s achievement. After all, the club had been trying to get there for over forty years. Wasn’t it about time they succeeded, anyway – storm be damned upon their city or not?

(3) It was not the NCAA Division 1 basketball champions for 2010. I cannot even recall who that was. Had I gone to that school, or had I lived in that area of the country, I’m sure I could tell you – or even make a case in behalf of my alma mater.

(4) It was not the total collapse of Tiger’s Wood’s reputation, marriage, privacy, financial empire, or golf game, but Tiger and sweet old Jessie James, the ex-husband of actress Sandra Bullock, ran a neck-and-neck tie for the most disingenuous apology for 2010.

(5) It was not Brazil winning the World Cup, notwithstanding the power of the Brazilian vote or the American soccer lobby vote. Any big win in  soccer in any year will ever be the major thing that happens on my calendar – and my attitude is not parochial. The world’s view of the support is. Soccer in the USA will continue to be the “sport” which allows our kids to break into sweat while they are growing into the desk jobs they will occupy for the rest of their lives as adults working for Chinese-owned companies on American soil.

(6) It was not the Texas Rangers reaching the World Series for the first time under the brief leadership watch of President Nolan Ryan, nor was it the patched-together Giants winning the 2010 World Series for the first time since their 1958 move to San Francisco. (See previous thoughts on the 2010 success of football’s New Orleans Saints for further explanation.)

(7) It was not the TCU Horned Frogs going undefeated in the 2010 NCAA Division 1 football season and qualifying as a BCS participant in the Rose Bowl a few days from now against Wisconsin. TCU had to win all twelve of their games and be perfect enough in that way to receive any kind of invitation to the dance, even though they have no chance of winning the big prize, a national crown in football. Under the present system, TCU could repeat this year’s performance for the next ten years running and still be denied an opportunity to play for the national championship.

None of those things are my pick for the biggest sports story of 2010. My pick is more like a loaded gun that has now been cocked and aimed at 2011 – and maybe at several years to come. My choice is the Philadelphia Phillies of Major League Baseball signing starting pitcher Cliff Lee and ending up the year with arguably the greatest collection of four ace starters in baseball History. With Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt manning four of the five starter spots in the Phillies pitching rotation, what are the odds of that club now taking most of the three-game series they play next season? And how often do you think the Phillies may head to the ninth inning with a league to protect next year? Man! If closer Brad Lidge has his head and his arm in shape in 2011, he has a chance to set a stratospheric record for saves pitching behind this group.

You may disagree, but my pick is the greatest pitching show on earth that now sets up its tent in Philadelphia next baseball season. I can’t wait to see how the best staff on paper now performs on the field of actual play, where the real results are determined.

Please check in with your own opinions. Maybe your memories are more far-reaching than my own.

The Art of Time Framing Our Lives

December 28, 2010

“The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad.” - Salvador Dali

I still remember the first time I embraced this thought. It was June 1950, the day after North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. I was only 12 years old, but I was also a product of my generation. We didn’t need a political conference in Washington to discuss what this action meant. Even we kids knew what it meant. – It meant war, even if the official description of our United States military “police action” presence on the Korean peninsula was never updated to “war” status over the next three years of hostile fire action and the loss of American lives.

I remember thinking: “It’s 1950. Five years ago, in 1945, we were all celebrating the end of of World War II – and I was just a little kid. Hey! Five years from now, in 1955, I’ll be 17, almost 18, and going over to fight in Korea too.” It didn’t happen because the “war” didn’t last long enough to wait for me, but today we have a war blazing in Afghanistan that is using up the lives of young Americans who also were little more than small children when the thing started for us nearly ten years ago.

Where does it all end? It doesn’t. Like Old Man River, it just keeps rolling along.

I’ve never written on this subject prior to this morning, but my real subject here is not war and peace, but something I’ve always called out to myself as “time framing.” Time framing is simply a way of seeking another timeline perspective on the events of our lives. Why do it? Beyond its prurient pleasure payoff, it’s a way of time-altering our perspective on the events and scope of our lifetime experience for the sake of improving our more limited experience of things in the actual moments these occur.

It’s a way of drawing from, and learning from, the generally similar and our pretty-much-the-same past personal experiences as each applies to what is going on in our lives now. In other words, it’s something that may help us learn the lessons of history as they apply even to each of us in a moment of pain, threat, or risk, especially.

1939: "Gammy and me." My maternal great-grandmother and me at her place in the country near Beeville, TX. She was born in 1857, four years prior to the start of the Civil War- and she was once a big everyday part of my early life.

I will turn 73 years old this coming Friday, December 31st, and I make no apologies for my years. As far as I’m concerned, we are all here on borrowed time. When you time frame my first 72 years back to the last day of 1937, my actual natal day, we find that there has been something approaching a 98% turnover rate in the actual faces of Earth’s living, breathing residents since that moment.

Time frame it further. Do this one with your own age too. This past summer, on July 4, 2010, and we Americans were all celebrating the 234th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, that date alaso meant that I personally had been around for 30.77% of this nation’s formal history since that starting date.

Here’s a more personal time frame: I graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston in 1956. That was 54 years ago this past May 2010. If I now slide the older me at 72 back to 1956 for an encounter with the 18-year old me that owned that year, what does the younger me think of the older me? Based upon my memories of him, younger me is thinking: “Man! If this old cat is 72 in 1956, that means he graduated from high school back in something like 1902! – What the the heck did people like him know about anything back in 1902?”

And what does the 72 year old me say to the 18 year old me? I don’t know. Maybe something like: “Age humbles. It teaches us what we were unwilling to learn earlier. It is a voice that only gets heard once we outgrow the ideas that (a) we are exempt from the laws and truths that apply to others; (b) we don’t need any teachers outside our own experience; and (c) our education begins once we open up to the wisdom of our elders. The elders can’t teach us everything, but they may help us skip over some bad spots on the road.”

Ask yourselves as you time frame – in whatever way you do it – who were the important teachers in your own life? If you cannot find any, you probably are not looking hard enough. Everyone we meet is our potential teacher at any age – whether we like like the lesson they bring to us or not.

At any rate, have fun getting ready for New Year’s Eve. It’s one of the great places for both celebration and reflection on this river of no return we all travel.


Santa Toys That Went Away

December 17, 2010

 

Cap Guns were our treasures as kids of the post WWII era.

 

With Christmas coming up faster than some of us can finish shopping, a few of my thoughts turn to the toys that went away from the shopping lists of Santa and our parents in the post World War II years. I’m not all that sure about changes in the girl toys, but there seems to be a major turnover in the toys for boys that are out there.

Exploding cap six-guns and rifles that all of us pre-teen boys down to ages 3 or 4 had to have back in the day seem to have vanished completely from the toy shelves. I guess today’s more violent world, one in which some real kids run around with real guns, pretty much precludes the opportunity for playful gun fights. In 2010, holding up anything that looks like a gun is also a good way to get yourself shot by the police. There was a story this week about a young man who was shot dead when he held up a detached garden hose nozzle and pointed it at the police when they came to check out a neighbor’s 911 call that the man was walking around the yard with a gun in his hand. It’s pretty easy today to see how that might happen. And also pretty scary. The threat of violence in our world today is always only a few seconds and a wrong turn on the streets away. That leaves no room for gun play as child’s play. Not in this world.

 

I was a pin ball wizard at the baseball part of this game.

 

Once upon a time, I got to the proficiency point of pretty much being able to call my shot on home runs in this little Christmas present pin ball game shown in the picture. The one in the picture is the exact model I played, way back in the late 1940s. Of course, we all know what happened to pin ball games and just about every other sports game involving pin balls, dice, or playing cards. Specific computer programs  and game company technologies have pretty much taken over the gaming world, for now and forever.

Too bad, There was some considerable mechanical skill required in the game of pin ball – and it was all something we developed over thousands of pulls and releases on the firing knob at different forces that taught us where the little silver  ball probably was going to end up.

Those too were the days my friend. Again, we thought they’s never end.

Perhaps, some of  you readers will also be able to comment on the differences you see in the Christmases you recall from your own personal “old days” in comparison to the ones that kids are having now. All I know for sure is – Christmas has changed in so many ways.

Let us hear from you.

 

 

A Houston That Might’ve Been

December 14, 2010

Without cars, Houston might've grown no wider than today"s "Inside the Loop" area.

The problems of mass transportation in Houston are virtually unsolvable unless we finally get it into our collective heads that they are almost absolutely necessary. I say almost because the alternatives to mass transit will always be out there: (1) We can continue to live large portions of our working days stuck in our 0ne-person-per-car traffic jams, covering long distances each on our drive-ins from hinterlands; or, (2) Others of us can find ways to contain our lives in one of those constantly developing smaller sections of Greater Houston and simply only venture beyond our personal world gates when we absolutely have to go elsewhere.

Houston didn’t have to develop along these lines, but it almost had no choice. As one of the newer developing major cities of this country that sprung up west of the Mississippi River, Houston quickly got caught up in America’s eco-political addiction and sale of the spontaneous combustion engine to “We, The People” during the early decades of the 20th century.

What a campaign that was. It must have been as tough as it is for drug dealers when they try to sell crack cocaine to street addicts. The people wanted their own wheels – and these came in stages. First the forces behind the gas-powered engine sold communities on the bus as a superior mode of transportation than the train or street care because it wasn’t contained to a fixed route. Once approved, rail tracks were pulled up so that there was no going back. Then the campaign shifted from busses to cars. “Why wait on the bus when you can plan your own trip with a personal automobile”

They Ford and Chevy salesmen forgot to tell us what will happen once a quarter million of us started planning the same trip to work every day at the same time on the same old two-lane street to downtown. By the 1940s, in Houston and elsewhere, we were getting the message that “super highways,” or so-called “freeways,” were needed to solve the problem of traffic jams.

Houston got its first superhighway in 1948 with the opening of the Gulf Freeway. It solved very few needs for long and it has been in a state of continuous updating ever since, as it apparently always will be. It’s just the nature of the beast. The driving dynamic is the constant growth of a population in which all new members also want to drive their own personal autos alone each day over streets that never get wider on their own,

The problem with mass transportation in Houston now, whether it’s by bus or train, is, “Who is going to use it?” The other driving force against useful public transit is the growing fear of people that  their lives may be in greater danger from random acts of violence as passengers on public vehicles.

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe there isn’t one. In fact, one of our larger problems in America today may be the naive belief that every problem we create has a solution that simply needs to be located at a later date. Oh really? Is that what we are counting on in the matters of our huge national debt and the big tab of that bill that’s now owned by China?

As for the smaller matter of “the Houston that might have been,” had we not grown up with the personal auto, my guess is that the actual city today would only cover a land area that is roughly, if not perfectly, comparable to the space within our present 610 Loop. It would be without a loop, or any other freeway, of course, but it would have rail service to all of its not-so-distant-from-downtown points.

Houston North would run no further north than Crosstimbers, just north of the present day 610 Loop.

Houston West would end at the far western side of Memorial Park, pretty much along the trail of our current 610 Loop and heading south along Post Oak Road to South Main.

Houston South would trail along the area that is currently 610 Loop, south of Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome. (Parts of Houston West and South would be cut out by the cities of Bellaire, West University Place, and Southside Place.

Houston East would also take a raggedy-patch route as far southeast as Park Place, up Old Galveston Road to Broadway, north to Harrisburg, and over the Ship Channel to take in Denver Harbor, and on north to present day Loop 610 North, give or take few blocks, here and there.

Downtown Houston would have remained the heart of local business activity and retail marketing, and it would have grown as the hub of Houston’s mass transit rail system, cultural and sporting events, and entertainment district. With a few exceptions. like the present growth of our cultural, sporting, and museum venues in and near downtown today, it would have been a very different Houston from the one we actually built – had it not been for the automobile.

We can’t know if the rail system version of Houston would’ve been better for us because we don’t know how we would have grown up personally had we not fallen in love with the idea of the personal car so many years ago.

Our love affair with the automobile may have caused some problems with traffic and the environment that have no real solutions to them in a world that continues to depend on freeways and oil-based fuel. Our hope has to be that it has also sparked the scientific genius we shall need to work our way out of the problems that come with our dependency on cars  – and that we are not stuck with a fatal attraction to something that eventually wipes out our “precious” way of life.

Baseball’s Biggest Player Contracts to Date

December 10, 2010

Carl Crawford Joins Red Sox in 2011.

Well, we Astro fans  are now officially free to euthanize any illusions we may have held about native son Carl Crawford coming home to give new meaning to the “Crawford Boxes” at Minute Maid Park. Carl has now been recruited by Red Sox General (Manager) Theo Epstein as the latest multi-year contract weapon in his Boston club’s ongoing war against “The Evil Empire.”  The Red Sox already had picked off Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres talent vineyard prior to adding the big grape that Crawford is – and they did it while General (Manager) Cashen of the New York Yankees had begun his recruitment dance with start pitcher Cliff Lee for a contract, if it happens, that may well alter again the latest top ten list of big spending on baseball talent.

For total dollars committed, Carl Crawford now moves into the # 10 spot because of his new deal with the Red Sox. It’s for seven years and $142 million dollars. If Carl Crawford ever comes home to Houston now as an active player, it’s most likely that he will be 37 years old by the time he’s free to make a twilight deal somewhere, if he wants to keep playing at all. You never know, but it’s much more likely now that Carl Crawford will never play a single game for the Houston Astros. Seven to eight years from now, the Astros will be knee deep in new ownership and, from the way our economy is changing, the world will be such a different place from the one we know now.

Who knows if baseball will continue to pay these obscene salaries to the game’s best players? Will the fan interest in baseball continue to convince advertisers forever  that televised baseball games are the best place for hundreds of key companies to place their advertising dollars? If these dollars ever get pulled away, or peeled back, there won’t be any more A Rod stratosphere contracts because the money simply will not be there to support them.

In the meanwhile, here is how the biggest active multi-year contracts in baseball stack up through today:

Top 10 Money Players (by Team, Start Date) (Years/Total Bucks) (Average $ per Year) *

1. Alex Rodriguez (New York Yankees, 2008) (10 years/$275 M) ($37.5 M per year)

2. Alex Rodriguez (Texas Rangers, 2001) (10 years/$252 M) ($25.2 M per year)

3. Derek Jeter (New York Yankees, 2011) (10 years/$189 M) ($18.9 M per year)

4. Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins, 2011) (8 years/$184 M) ($23 M per year)

5. Mark Teixeira (New York Yankees, 2009) (8 years/$180 M) ($25.4 M per year)

6. C.C. Sabathia (New York Yankees, 2009) (7 ears/$161 M) ($23 M per year)

7. Manny Ramirez (Boston Red Sox, 2001) (8 years/$160 M) ($20 M per year)

8. Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies, 2011) (10 years/$157.75 M) ($15.78 M per year)

9. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers, 2008) (8 years/$152 M) ($19 M per year)

10. Carl Crawford (Boston Red Sox, 2011) (7 years/$142 M) ($10.28 M per year)

* List does not include large one-year contracts to Ryan Howard with the Philadelphia Phillies, Johan Santana with the New York Mets, or Manny Ramirez with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

My question is simply this: Would it really be so bad if baseball suddenly could no longer afford to make their best players of the moment as instantly rich as Saudi-Arabian desert oil princes?

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned and way out of line here, but I didn’t grow up loving baseball because it’s best players were light years richer than the rest of us. I grew up adoring the players who lived pretty much as the rest of us did, but who chose to play baseball because their obvious passion and love of the game publicly also matched their abilities to play it at the highest competitive level. You could just see it ib=n them from the time you reached the ballpark through the last batter in the game.

These guys showed up early, be they star or sub. They all shagged flies. They ran together. They took BP, of course, but they also took infield practice, sometimes even engaging in a little shadow-ball pantomiming and pepper game popping for their own amusement and reflex sharpening.

It was a game. The players loved it. And so did the fans. If the big salaries disappeared, I wouldn’t care if we lost some future Carl Crawford to the NFL as a running back, or some future Randy Johnson to the NBA as a forward, If we can still round up enough talented guys to play the game from the heart, I will still be there as a fan to watch baseball that is also priced right to the circumstances of our changing economy.

Please check in with a comment. What are you own thoughts on the future of big multiple year salaries in baseball?

Our Hermann Park/Rice Legacy

December 6, 2010

This iconic statue of General Sam Houston has marked the entrance to Houston's Hermann Park since 1925. It was designed and constructed by Italian-born Texas sculptor Enrico Filberto Cerracchio for $75,000 in post World War I dollars.

A legacy is only as valuable as the care it receives from its recipients. So far, the 1914 gift of land for a park and medical center south of downtown Houston by early local philanthropist George H. Hermann seems to be surviving as valuable to the City of Houston beyond anyone’s earliest 20th century dreams.

Were it not for the 445-acre donation of land by Hermann, and the adjacent earlier donation of acreage and endowment funds to the contiguous west of the park for the start of Rice (Institute) University in 1912 from funds donated by another local giver, William Marsh Rice, the southern exposure of this city’s non-zoned real estate might have grown as nothing more than a hodge-podge of homes, business, and billboards, the way much of our city grew until we awoke from what we were doing. That kind of force for conservancy wasn’t necessary south and immediately west of General’s Sam’s statue. The gifts of Messrs. Hermann and Rice had set a legacy in motion that the people of 20th century Houston had gratefully accepted, developed, and improved.

The Texas Medical Center south of Hermann Park is now the arguably finest in the world. The art, civic, and science museum district immediately north of Hermann Park is now one of the finest in the nation, if not the entire world – and these all flow further north through the reviving mid-town redeveloping residential area and into the traditional downtown/uptown (depending on your point of view) business district that also now preserves classic structures like the iconic Gulf and Esperson Buildings, the ancient LaCarafe Building on Market Square, while also serving as the promotional environment for the growth of the classical performing arts, major league baseball, and professional basketball. Throw in downtown also as the home of the central branch in one of the finest library collections and systems in the nation.

Houston values culture. Houston has class. And the seeds of it all may have been the early donations of two men named Hermann and Rice. These gifts to the people just seemed to set in motion an appetite and an attitude about learning, preservation, beauty, and accomplishment that permeates the air of our community to this very early dawn in the 21st century.

The future of Houston is right over there, just beyond the dawn. All we have to do to make our best future most likely is to lean into tomorrow by living fully today and in total respect for the many personal and community gifts of our storied local past.

How long has it been since you’ve visited the zoo, attended a concert at Hermann Park, checked out the Science Museum, visited the Houston Museum of Fine Arts or one its many local exposition cousins, or simply taken a continuing education class through the Rice University Adult Studies program?

Well, maybe it’s time you did something along those lines. We keep the legacy alive through our personal participation in whatever’s available. And we’ve got a lot of worthwhile stuff filling our cups of opportunity to the brim here in Houston. It’s up to each of us to either use it or lose it.


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America in Color: 1939-1943

December 4, 2010

Faro and Doris Caudill, homesteaders. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

We have my old friend and St. Thomas High School classmate Pat Callahan to thank for these beautiful photographs making their appearance in The Pecan Park Eagle today. Patrick, my man, thank you for all of us.

Today’s column is a visual feast. Just click on the link below and be whisked away to the Denver Post collection of rare Library of Congress photos depicting everyday American life in color during the latter years of the Great Depression-Early World War II era, from 1939 into 1943. Their beauty is in their full color depiction of an America that used to be, but no longer is. In some ways, that’s good. Poverty and racism are never pretty – and both need to be fought commonly as depredations of the human spirit that they each are.

Poverty is not the absence of money. It is the absence of opportunity. Racism simply guarantees that the absence of opportunity for some people over time will not lead to a crying out for same, but as a calling out for entitlement and rescue with money, If granted as living subsistence relief only through publicly funded social programs, the suffering new political constituency group gets to keep the spiritual poverty that came with the racist limitations of their previous mental or legal slavery to a prejudicially suppressed life without any real opportunity. In other words, remove opportunity long enough – and people don’t stop being hungry – it’s just that many of them forget what they are really hungry for. They grow up settling for rescue and relief from the public soup kitchen because that’s all they ever known or been taught to know.

But there’s something else here too in these photos. – To me, it’s an America still bonding close to the ground on family, shared labor, and community connection to others – and not to selfish consumerism
or addiction to technological distractions, like texting devices, or this one I’m using now, the Internet. Even in color, the people are not living at the brim of frilly material things that surround most of us in 2010, but they are not impoverished either by the absence of money.
Check out the photos. Get lost in another world of America’s yesteryears. Enjoy. Reflect. Connect with what you see in the images that follow. Then, here’s a game you can play that may be both helpful and kind of fun: Pick out a photo that might help you with your own perspective on life in 2010, if you could magically go back and personally experience the 24 hours of that particular photo day with the subjects, scenery, or activity that unfolds in that particular picture. Have fun. Here’s the Library of Congress collection link now hosted by the Denver Post:

http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2010/07/26/captured-america-in-color-from-1939-1943/2363/

A Thanksgiving Eve Day Wish

November 24, 2010

Our little family isn’t doing much this year because of holiday work obligations that are tying up the time of my wife and son tomorrow, but we will all meet at the end of the day to break bread together and be thankful for all the right reasons.

Thank God for the riches of health, for the kind of love that reaches out as concern for others, for friendship with those who share our bond to life as the opportunity for creative experience, and for a wide open, full-throttle passion for living in peace, with no resentments or regrets. Those elements are all vital to spiritual peace, in my book, along with an acceptance of our need to battle back forever against any new or ancient adversity that attacks any of those essential facets of a full life.

My best wishes to all of you and yours for a most happy and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. Take it – and make it beautiful.

Warm regards,

Bill McCurdy

It’s Not The End of The World

November 22, 2010

If you're a Houston sports fan, however, it often feels that way!

Experts in my field are constantly writing books on how nothing in life, except for death itself, is the end of the world and that even that one is superseded by a strong faith in God and life in the hereafter. Problem is, most of these mental health professionals are not Houston sports fans and have no idea what it’s like to die a thousand deaths on the field with our teams to the familiar tune of the most painful last second results ever churned up in the script cauldrons of hell.

It is currently the season for the Houston Texans of the NFL to pull out our community toenails with a pair of psychological pliers, but they are only carrying forward with the rich tradition already laid out for the football fans of this area by the team formerly known as the Houston Oilers.

Remember Pittsburgh in the late 1970s? How about “Stagger Lee” in Denver during the 1980s? Or, the worst – a certain monumental “El Foldo” game up in Buffalo back in the early 1990s? No, the Texans still have some considerable ground to cover to equal the hope-dashing destiny of their professional football predecessors in Houston.

Being fans of college football at UH, Rice, or TSU isn’t much relief either. Once Rice pulled away from the ancient Jess Neely days, they sunk into an academic/athletic mire on the field. Rice got good at producing football players who graduated, but couldn’t play winning ball on their ways to getting their degrees. They were simply too much student and not enough athlete.

TSU just never seems to get their winning plane off the ground for long. It’s kind of hard to build much of a reputation for success when you possess only the flight range of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.

My old school, the University of Houston, has come closest to mimicking the heartache patterns of our professional clubs. The Cougars enjoyed a brief surge of success when they joined the Southwest Conference in 1976 and promptly won or tied for conference football titles in three of their first four years in the league. UH also put together the famous Phi Slamma Jamma basketball club of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, but then stumbled into that horrible heartbreaking buzzer loss to North Carolina State in the 1983 national championship game. The basketball debacle came on the close era heels of the UH collapse in the 1979 Cotton Bowl football game. Leading Notre Dame and Joe Montana by 34-14 with seven minutes to play, the Cougars managed to convert this advantage into a 35-34 loss on the last play of the game.

Too many other instances of the Cougars snatching defeat from the jaws of victory are citable here. It’s enough for now to say that the experience has been overwhelmingly disappointing for those of us who have been following the Cougars forever. And this season’s loss of highly touted quarterback Case Keenum to in jury in the third game and the subsequent implosion of our season has not helped Cougar spirits. Our football pass defense is almost as bad as that bunch that plays for the Texans.

The Rockets did provide for a brief departure from “Choke City” name-calling by taking the “Clutch City” route to the 1994 and 1995 NBA championships, but they have long since returned to their hiding spot in the land of mediocrity. How a club can hide itself anywhere when one of their players is 7’7″ tall is hard to conceive until you remember that this particular player is capable of huring himself when he picks up the morning newspaper and is then perfectly capable of hiding hmself.

The Astros? Don’t get me started. As a baseball fan, I will never totally recover from the disappointments we suffered in 1980 and 1986. Both of those near pennant misses hurt worse than our four-game sweep loss in the actual World Series to the 2005 Chicago White Sox. They still hurt too much to go over the details again of how we lost to the Phillies in 1980 and the Mets in 1986. – We were right there – RIGHT THERE – and we couldn’t reel it in.

So, my question of the day is about how the general Houston sports experience has shaped your own personal attitude about the possibility of a “Houston Curse.” Of course, some of you soccer fans have seen some championship action lately with the Dynamo – and old Aeros fans may recall some of those early hockey crowns of the minor league type, but how has this overall fairly regular rendezvous with last minute team loss pain affected your own belief system about Houston sports.

It’s not the end of the world – and living in Houston may have nothing to do with our pattern of frequent disappointment in the cruelest of ways on the playing fields of our various teams, but what do you think, and please dig down deep for honest answers to these questions:

When it comes down to the last play, the last out, the last second play that’s going to determine whether Houston wins or loses, what is it that’s going on inside you in that moment? Are you confident and hopeful? Are you simply neutral? Or do you find yourself lapsing into something like, “Oh No! Here we go again!”

Yesterday’s last few seconds loss by the Texans to the Jets as a result of that completed long pass is a beautiful reference point to the above questions. How many of you started out thinking about that pass: It’ll never happen? How many of you simply didn’t know? How many of you saw that pass by the Jets working out before it was even thrown?

Please post your comments below as responses to this column. And have a nice day.

Union Station 1912

November 14, 2010

Union Station in Houston, 1912.

Last night I attended the Second Annual Knuckle Ball, the benefit that honors the late Joe Niekro in the fight against brain aneurysms. This year it was held in the great hall or rotunda of Union Station in Houston or, as it is better known today as the administrative offices of the Houston Astros and the opening face on Crawford Avenue for Minute Maid Park, home field of our National League ball club.

The place reeks with Houston history.

I thought last night, as I often do whenever I’m in that place long enough to be reminded of its full context for me as a kid who grew up in Houston: “This is where we used to come pick up Papa when he came to visit us from San Antonio.”  It was a happy memory. Papa was my grandfather on my mother’s side

If you got here early for a train back in the day, you were supposed to wait on these long wooden benches in the Great Hall until it got here. As kids though, we had to move around. We also enjoyed testing the echos of our loud calls against the hard marble walls of the place. As best I remember, nobody tried the echo trick at the Knuckle Ball last night.

Drayton McLane, Jr. and the Houston Astros have done a wonderful job of preserving an important Houston architectural structure in the way they have restored Union Station to much of its former glory. It probably looks better now than it did in the first place, when it served as Houston’s rail window on the rest of the country.

In 1928, you could take the interurban line from Union Station to the baseball games at Buff Stadium.

Long before Union Station ever became the hub of our Houston baseball world, it served as the central depot for taking people the four miles or so they needed to travel to reach the new Buffalo Stadium that first opened n Houston on April 11, 1928.

If we had a time machine cranked up and were ready to go, wouldn’t you love going back there at least once to take that same train out to the ballgame on the first Opening Day of the new ballpark? The Buffs were opening against Waco in 1928. Branch Rickey, General Manger of the Cardinals, and Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis were going to be there too.

Buff Stadium. Don’t you want to go there now? What a trip that would be! And what a great opportunity to see how Houston actually looked, smelled, and tasted back in the late halcyon days of the so-called Roaring Twenties.

I would have been tempted to also take a 1928 side trek to the Heights and check up on how a certain little 12-year old girl was doing. In 1928, that little girl would have been my future mother. Then I get to thinking harder about why mass time time travel probably never will happen, and for reasons that go way beyond the Laws of Physics governing time/space worm holes that impose certain barriers in reality that fail to dampen our theoretical attraction to the possibility. That being said, if millions of us suddenly became like a legion of time-traveling Marty McFlys, bouncing “Back to the Future,” we would probably manage to change enough destiny to assure that many us were never born, anyway. Once establishing a case for altering history and assuring our own states of non-existence in the future, we would simply disappear completely, having never existed in the first place.

I cannot believe all of that stuff now pours out of my brain on a Sunday morning after simply sitting in an historical spot for one brief evening last night. Now I need to grab some oatmeal and a firm anchor on the fact this is Sunday, November 14, 2010.

Have a peaceful and restful Sunday, everybody.