PORT ARTHUR —
Holding off the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the AFC playoffs last week merely bought some time for the Houston Texans in general and head coach Gary Kubiak and QB Matt Schaub in particular. With the national perception of the Texans as being somewhat of a fraud, Kubiak and Schaub are really under the microscope today against the Patriots because of an offense that is overly conservative and can’t score touchdowns. If Houston isn’t competitive in a game in which it’s a 9 1/2 point underdog, much of the luster will drain off a 12-4 season. There will be questions if the Texans have gone as far as they can go with Schaub, and if they are destined to remain on the outside looking in against the NFL’s best . . . Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is almost too good to be true, both on and off the field. The case has long been made that Watt is the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL. Meanwhile, his legacy as a very thoughtful, really good guy off the field continues to grow. The latest example was him showing up at a Texans media gathering on Wednesday wearing a Craig Biggio throwback jersey. Watt, who grew up a Milwaukee Brewers fan in Wisconsin, remembers watching Biggio play, was aware of baseball’s Hall of Fame vote and wanted to show his support for another Houston professional athlete. Biggio, I’m told, was very impressed with the gesture . . . Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Roger Clemens got about what he deserved — 36 percent of the vote. For those buying into the Rocket’s ongoing insistence that he never juiced up, think Lance Armstrong and how long and loud he made impassioned pleas of innocence. Older players simply don’t reach the heights Clemens and Barry Bonds did without help.
Ho hum. Notre Dame got embarrassed in another bowl game. That makes the Fighting Irish 2-11 in their last 13 bowls and 0-4 in BCS bowls by the average score of 40 to 14. Sad thing about this latest embarrassment is that because the BCS system allows an overrated team a free pass to the championship game based on record rather than merit, more deserving teams have to watch. At least three other teams — Oregon, Georgia and Texas A&M — were clearly better than Notre Dame and I’d question whether the too slow, physically underwhelming Fighting Irish could beat anybody in the final top 10 on a neutral field . . . Next to Alabama’s football team, there were three big winners in the Crimson Tide’s championship-game romp. Las Vegas bookies, with Notre Dame drawing 60 percent of the action on the most heavily bet college game ever, cleaned up. Texas A&M, due to the fact it won at Alabama, got considerable media exposure for the feat and heavy play as a serious contender for the 2013 national championship. Last but not least among the winners was Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama QB A.J. McCarron. Webb became an overnight celebrity — thanks to Brent Musberger and ABC’s cameras — gaining thousands of Twitter followers and landing on the Today show . . . Sounds like Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is glad Texas A&M is now in the SEC and he doesn’t have to face Aggie QB Johnny Manziel on a yearly basis. Stoops told the Tulsa World that Manziel is the best QB the Sooners have faced in his 14 years at OU. Quite a tribute for a guy who has gone up against the likes of Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Colt McCoy.
Hope I’m wrong on this, but I fear in six weeks there’s going to be a discussion about where the current Lamar basketball team ranks in relation to the worst Cardinal teams of the past 50 years. What I’ve seen in admittedly limited exposure is a team that appears to have an extremely low ceiling because of its talent level. Makes me wonder if Pat Knight and the assistant coaches involved in recruiting had a good understanding of the caliber player needed to be competitive even in the Southland Conference . . . Those who vote for inductees to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame have an opportunity to right an horrendous wrong in regard to former University of Houston basketball coach Guy Lewis. Lewis, who has been snubbed repeatedly, despite efforts led by Jim Nantz of CBS, is back on the ballot after a five-year absence. Continuing to block a man who took five teams to the Final Four, was a pioneer in opening the door to black players in the South and was the catalyst behind the 1968 UH-UCLA game in the Astrodome that was a watershed event in college basketball, would be downright criminal. Nantz, who is doing the Texans-Patriots game for CBS, told me Saturday he’s back on the soap box and won’t rest until Lewis is given his due. With Guy due to turn 91 on March 15, and not in the best of health, Jim desperately wants it to happen this time around . . . One more thought on how the Notre Dame mystique tends to distort things in college football. It was noted in this space a few weeks ago that the main reason linebacker Manti Te’o was a strong Heisman Trophy candidate was because he played for the Fighting Irish. Consider that case closed after Ta’o missed tackle after tackle and was part of an overrated defense that allowed Alabama four touchdown drives 80 yards or longer. Ta’o was a good college player, but what a sham if he’d won the Heisman.
When Jerry Jones promised to make things uncomfortable after yet another Dallas Cowboys’ failure, he wasn’t kidding. By hiring Monte Kiffin to replace Rex Ryan as Dallas’ defensive coordinator, Jones has surely made most of Cowboys nation uncomfortable. Kiffin, after all, will be 73 next month and is fresh from more or less being forced out as defensive coordinator at USC. Methuselah and George Halas apparently weren’t taking calls or they might have gotten an offer from Jones. Kiffin’s son, by the way, was the head coach at USC who decided to put the old man out to pasture . . . Short of removing himself as GM, which is never going to happen, the best way for Jones to give the Cowboys a chance at being better in 2013 would have been to fire Jason Garrett, or force him to bring in a veteran offensive coordinator to call plays. The ideal guy would be Norv Turner, who was a difference maker for Troy Aikman and could be an invaluable asset to Tony Romo. I’m guessing, though, Norv has had all he wants of Jethro and will land somewhere else, probably Cleveland . . . There’s been lots of speculation both ways on whether Andy Reid was a good hire in Kansas City in relation to the Chiefs best player — Jamaal Charles. If Reid’s history holds, Jamaal will probably never again get enough carries to rush for 1,500 yards. But the next record he sets might be for receiving yardage by a running back. That, of course, will depend on the Chiefs getting an NFL caliber QB.
Don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more stupid in professional sports than the Washington Redskins putting Robert Griffin III’s career in jeopardy by allowing him to play on an already damaged knee last weekend against Seattle. Griffin stuck to the NFL’s macho code by saying he was good to go, but it shouldn’t have been his decision. Risking the future of the franchise over a first-round playoff game will haunt Redskins coach Mike Shananan forever, if Griffin is never the same explosive QB. And, at this point, nobody knows for sure. The official word is that the Redskins are hopeful Griffin is ready for the start of the 2013 season. Smart money says he won’t be . . . Contrast what the Redskins did with their D.C. baseball counterpart, the Washington Nationals, and how they shut down pitching ace Stephen Strasburg in September when he might have pitched them into the World Series. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, despite heavy across the board criticism, erred on the side of caution with Strasburg coming off Tommy John surgery. Strasburg didn’t like it, his teammates were ticked off, fans were mad and the media ganged up on Rizzo. We’ll never know for sure whether Strasburg would have done any damage to his arm by pitching another 50 or 60 innings, or if he’d put the Nationals over the top. But, after what happened to Griffin, Rizzo’s critics are going to have to back off a bit. Thumbs up to him for not going for instant gratification at the expense of a player’s career. That’s a rare choice in a win-at-all-cost sports world.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org