Thursday, May 3, 2018

Houston's 10 Greatest Teams

This week, the Yankees are in Houston to play the Astros, the defending World Champions.

Houston's Top 10 Teams

Honorable Mention to the University of Houston Cougars. Their football team has won 11 Conference Championships, most recently in 2015; and 11 bowl games, including the Cotton Bowl in 1976, 1979 and 1980. Their most recent bowl win was the 2015 Peach Bowl. Their basketball team reached the NCAA Final Four in 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983 and 1984.

Honorable Mention to the Rice University Owls. Their football team has won 7 Conference Championships, most recently in 2013; and 7 bowl games, including the 1st Cotton Bowl in 1937, plus the Cotton Bowl again in 1949 and 1953, and the 1946 Orange Bowl. Their most recent bowl win was the 2014 Hawaii Bowl. Their basketball team has never reached the NCAA Final Four, and hasn't won a Conference Championship since 1970. But their baseball team has made 7 College World Series and won the 2003 National Championship.

Honorable Mention to the 1986 Houston Astros. They won the National League Western Division, and came within 1 run of forcing a Game 7, at home, with Mike Scott on the mound, which would likely have derailed the Mets' "inevitable" World Championship. But it was the only time between 1981 and 1993 that they got remotely close to a Pennant.

Honorable Mention to the 2011-16 Houston Texans. The NFL's newest franchise had a rough start, but have righted the ship. In 6 seasons, they won 4 AFC South Division titles, and won 3 Playoff games. However, in 16 seasons, the Texans have gotten no closer to a Super Bowl -- aside from having hosted 2 at what's now NRG Stadium -- than their 7-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011-12 AFC Divisional Playoff.

Honorable Mention to the 1975-81 Houston Rockets. In 7 seasons, they made the Playoffs 5 times, reaching the Conference Finals in 1977 and winning the Western Conference in 1981. They took the Boston Celtics to 6 games in their 1st NBA Finals. By the time they got back to the Finals in 1986, they were a very different team.

Honorable Mention to the 1984-91 Houston Rockets. They made 7 straight Playoffs, but only in 1986 did they get to the Conference Finals, where they stunned the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games. As in 1981, they took the Celtics to 6 games before falling.

Honorable Mention to the 2012-18 Houston Rockets. They've matched their 1984-91 forebears by making the Playoffs 7 straight times, but with only 1 Conference Final, losing to the Golden State Warriors in 2015. They won 65 games in the regular season, and are currently in the Conference Semifinal against the Utah Jazz, so this team could move up the list.

10. 1979-81 Houston Astros. They had been good since 1969, but not until 1979 did they finish as high as 2nd in the National League Western Division. They needed a Playoff with the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the Division in 1980, but lost the NL Championship Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in a 5-game classic. Then they lost to the Dodgers in the strike-forced NL Division Series in 1981. If only J.R. Richard hadn't been stricken by a stroke in 1980...

9. 1987-93 Houston Oilers. They made the Playoffs 7 straight seasons, winning the AFC Central Division in 1991 and 1993 and Playoff games in the 1987, 1988 and 1991 seasons. These were the years when the Astrodome was nicknamed the House of Pain.

But their choke of a 35-3 lead at Buffalo in the 1992-93 Playoffs stands out. Although they rebounded to win the Division in 1993, they lost to Kansas City, and never appeared in another Playoff game until the 1999 season, by which point they were the Tennessee Titans.

8. 1978-80 Houston Oilers. What was probably the most talented football team in Houston history made 3 straight Playoffs, including the 1978 and 1979 AFC Championship Games, but couldn't get past the Pittsburgh Steel Curtain.

7. 1997-2005 Houston Astros. What was, until last year, the most talented Astros team won 3 straight NL Central Division titles in 1997-99, made it 4 in 5 in 2001, and reached back-to-back NLCS's through the Wild Card, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 and then beating them in 2005 for the franchise's 1st Pennant.

But they got swept by the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. It would take the Colt .45's/Astros franchise until its 56th season to win a World Series game.

6. 2006-13 Houston Dynamo. Formerly the San Jose Earthquakes (who have since been replaced), they won the MLS Cup in their 1st 2 seasons in Houston, 2006 and 2007. They won the Western Conference regular season title in 2008, reached the Conference Final in 2009 and 2013, and lost the MLS Cup Final in 2011 and 2012. They have since reached another Conference Final in 2017.

5. 1997-2000 Houston Comets. Houston's most successful team is its women's basketball team. The Comets won the 1st 4 WNBA Championships. They reached the Western Conference Finals again in 2005, but fell into financial difficulty, and were folded after the 2008 season.

4. 1972-77 Houston Aeros. Led by a resurgent Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty, they won the World Hockey Association title, the Avco Cup, in 1974 and 1975, and reached the Finals again in 1976.

But when all 3 Howes shifted to the New England Whalers for the 1977-78 season, the Aeros were doomed, and it was their last season. While another team with the Aeros name has played in the minor leagues, Houston has never had an NHL team.

3. 1960-62 Houston Oilers. The 1st and 2nd Champions of the American Football League, they nearly made it 3 straight, losing to the Dallas Texans (the name retroactively ironic), the team which subsequently became the Kansas City Chiefs, in double overtime in the 1962 AFL Championship Game. Then they had 3 terrible seasons, before making the 1967 AFL Championship Game and the 1969 AFL Divisional Playoff.

2. 2015-17 Houston Astros. After losing 322 games from 2011 to 2013, their built-up draft picks made them merely weak in 2014, and then, in 2015, they reached the American League Wild Card Game, and beat the Yankees, before losing the AL Division Series to the Kansas City Royals.

They won 84 games in 2016, and then were the best team in baseball all season long last year, winning 101 games (1 off the franchise record, from 1998), beating the Boston Red Sox in the Division Series, and then the Yankees and finally the Dodgers in 7 games each. A franchise finally fulfilled.

1. 1992-99 Houston Rockets. Again, 7 straight Playoff berths, but this team went much further. In 1994, they finally won Houston's 1st World Championship in any sport, coming back from 3 games to 2 down to beat the Knicks in Game 7 at The Summit. They swept the Orlando Magic in the Finals the next year. They slipped a little in 1996, but made the Conference Finals in 1997, losing to the Utah Jazz. Two more Playoff berths saw them go nowhere.

However, given the state of the WNBA, then as now, the Rudy Tomjanovich-coached, Hakeem Olajuwon-led Rockets of the mid-1990s remain Houston's greatest sports team, pending further achievement by the current Rockets or Astros.

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