PORT ARTHUR —
Could the underdog Atlanta Falcons have some sort of Bridge City karma working on their behalf against San Francisco in this afternoon’s NFC championship game? As everybody knows, the Falcons are one-step from the Super Bowl because of Bridge City ex Matt Bryant’s pressure-packed 49-yard field goal last week. But how many remember that when Atlanta last reached the Super Bowl, 14 years ago, one of the catalysts from his defensive end position was another former Cardinal great — the late Shane Dronett? Sadly, Dronett is recalled more these days for taking his own life, and later discovered to have been suffering from the same brain damage — chronic traumatic encephalopathy — found in other NFL players who committed suicide. If the Falcons are celebrating Monday, they will be doing it on the fourth anniversary of Dronett’s death . . . Southeast Texas’ other Atlanta connection — defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux — was a senior at Port Arthur’s Lincoln High School, when the Falcons lost to Denver in Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami. Babineaux, in his eighth year with the Falcons, is having another solid season, and is coming off a strong outing against Seattle that saw him recover a fumble and record a sack of Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Jonathan, who may not be at full speed due to a shoulder injury, needs an Atlanta victory today so his brother Jordan can’t claim to be the only one in the family to have played in a Super Bowl. Jordan was with Seattle when it fell to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL in 2006.
No matter where the whole truth in the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax turns lies, Te’o won’t live down the ramifications any time soon. The Notre Dame linebacker either comes off as being gullible beyond belief or as a lying opportunist who played a make-believe, dying girlfriend for all she was worth in Heisman Trophy votes. Either way, he’s going to be the punchline of jokes as long as he’s in the public eye as a football player. What’s downright disgusting is that the hoax almost helped Te’o claim a Heisman Trophy he wouldn’t have even been in the running for if he’d played for any other college team. It’s a great lesson to those who fawn over all things Notre Dame and tend to give the school and its players things they haven’t earned . . . Leave it to the ever creative folks who dream up promotions for minor league baseball teams to milk instant publicity out of the Te’o fiasco. The Florence, Ky. Freedom of the Independent Frontier League media attention for promoting a “Manti Te’o Girlfriend Bobblehead Night.” Each of the first 1,000 fans to the Freedom’s May 23 game will get an empty box so they can make the imaginary bobblehead out to whoever they want it to be. There will also be a special section for those with the empty boxes to sit with their imaginary friend. My suggestion to Te’o: Have your advisers get in contact with Oprah to book you as her follow-up to Lance Armstrong . . .
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel apparently made quite an impression on Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, while he was running all over the Sooner defense in the Cotton Bowl. Here’s what the brother of OU head coach Bob Stoops had to say on a radio show a couple of days later. “If they can keep him out of jail or keep him eligible, he’s gonna be real good. If they can keep him off Twitter, he might win three or four Heismans.” Stoops, no doubt at insistence of his big brother, later issued an apology . . . Manziel, by the way, has become such a celebrity that the organizers of the PGA Tour’s upcoming AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am thought about extending him an invitation to participate in the Feb. 7-10 event. The Aggie QB is said to be a pretty good golfer and would no doubt have jumped at what is one of the most coveted invitations an amateur can get. Ultimately, however, it was determined there might be NCAA problems because the entry fee for amateurs is said to be in the $20,000 range for those who have to pay . . . This may not mean much of anything, but it’s certainly some interesting recruiting fodder. In the Houston Chronicle’s most recent listing of its Top 100 area schoolboy football prospects, 10 had committed to Texas A&M while only two were bound for Texas. Oklahoma, Baylor and the University of Houston were the closest to the Aggies with three commitments each.
Nothing that happened in the Texans’ playoff loss to the Patriots changed my feeling that this team is unlikely to reach a Super Bowl with Matt Schaub as its quarterback. Schaub is pretty good as long as he’s not pressured, isn’t faced with second or third and long and doesn’t have to go down field. Those limitations, however, are hard to overcome against top teams and elite quarterbacks. Since Houston is stuck with Schaub, it needs to make a speed receiver to complement Andre Johnson a top priority . . . It’s going to be interesting to see whether Jerry Jones tries to resign under-productive, oft-injured running Felix Jones, now that he’s a free agent. My guess is Jethro will resign him, rather than admit how badly he blew it by taking Jones with Dallas No. 1 draft choice five years ago. If the guy’s name hadn’t been Jones, and he hadn’t played at Arkansas, Jethro wouldn’t have given him a second thought. By taking someone who wasn’t even a starter at Arkansas, he passed on Jamaal Charles in both the first and second rounds of that draft . . . I didn’t have this information at hand when writing about Matt Bryant’s game-winning goal against Seattle earlier in the week. But it’s certainly worth passing along. Dating back to the 2010 season, Bryant has won five games for the Falcons with a field goal in a game’s final minute. That makes him No. 1 in the NFL in that category. The Steelers Shaun Suisham is second with three game winners in that span.
For a team that once again shapes up as being borderline unwatchable, the Houston Astros don’t seem to be doing much in the way of building goodwill under new owner Jim Crane. As was hinted at in this space a few weeks ago, lack of cooperation from the Astros has forced the Houston Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America to scrub the winter baseball awards dinner it had been doing in conjunction with the team for 27 years. The dinner annually attracted in excess of 1,000 fans, handed out awards to Astros players, honored the Houston area’s top major leaguer, saluted area schoolboy stars and started getting fans in the mood for the upcoming season. Like good major league baseball in Houston, it’s now a thing of the past . . . As if the death of the baseball dinner wasn’t enough of a downer, the Houston Press published a story last week saying the Astros, who share ownership of Comcast SportsNet Houston with the Rockets and NBC, shot down a deal with DirecTV in November that would have made Rockets and Astros telecasts available to viewers across Southeast Texas, and likely led to deals with other cable providers. According to the story, the Astros own 46 percent of the channel to 30 percent for the Rockets and 22 percent for NBC, and no deal can be finalized without their approval. So, while the Rockets play in virtual TV anonymity, the Astros are apparently holding out for a better offer . . . Most unsettling quote I’ve read in a sports context lately came from Kobe Bryant, after he and other members of the Los Angeles Lakers went to see the move “Lincoln.” I don’t know if the guys knew who he was. It came as a big shock to them when he was killed,” said Bryant. Think about that one for minute.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org