, Port Arthur, Texas

September 29, 2012

West column: Jamaal gives credit to Arlene LeBlanc for breakout day

Bob West
The Port Arthur News


    Many folks in Port Arthur know that one of the biggest influences in Jamaal  Charles’ life has been his aunt, Arlene LeBlanc. Now many people in Kansas City know how important she is to him. In a KC press conference two days after his monster game against New Orleans, Jamaal spoke of the emotional boost he’d gotten from LeBlanc when he was at a low ebb a week earlier after gaining only three yards in six carries in a blowout loss at Buffalo, and was having self doubts about ever being the same as he was before a serious knee injury. “My auntie was the first person I called after that game,” he said. “She was like, ‘I know what you can do. I believe in your abilities. You’ve got to go out there and execute, Jamaal. We know the type running back you are.’ What my auntie said, she gave me more comfort and some more confidence in my abilities.” Fittingly, LeBlanc was at the Superdome last Sunday when Charles ran wild against the Saints . . . The Texans are heavy favorites to get to 4-0 against Tennessee this afternoon, but they would do well to be wary of Port Arthur’s Titans’ connection — Lincoln ex Jordan Babineaux. Babineaux earned his nickname “Big Play Babs” against that other Texas NFL team, twice making game-saving or game changing plays late in Seattle wins over the Cowboys. After starting every game at strong safety for Tennessee last year, and leading the team in tackles, he’s now got a bit of a chip on his shoulder from demoted to a backup role in the Titans’ first two games. He was returned to the starting lineup last week and the 0-2 Titans upset Detroit. You’d have to think his mother, Barbara, will be leading a huge continent of hometown fans into Reliant Stadium today to root him and the Titans on.

    NFL spin control aside, especially the hokey part about commissioner Roger Goodell apologizing to the fans, the bottom line on Refereegate was that a lot of arrogant, pompous billionaire owners intent on union-busting got embarrassed and exposed. Repeatedly trying to make the case that scab officials could do a credible job calling games was like Jerry Jones trying to sell the idea that 500 coaches could accomplish what Jimmy Johnson did as head coach of the Cowboys. It’s not often the worker wins a labor battle in America these days, but the referees won big. Did they ask for and get too much? Not when you consider that a multi-billion dollar business couldn’t operate credibly without them . . . Jethro, by the way, was the butt of a strike-related joke in a column by Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News. To set the stage, Jones had tried to nonchalant the final-play fiasco in Seattle Monday night by saying he’d gone to sleep and didn’t see it. Lupica, chastising Goodell for being a puppet of the owners, wrote: “He is supposed to work for his fans as much as he works for owners such as Jerry Jones, who almost tried to laugh the whole thing off in Seattle by saying he’d fallen asleep at halftime. Maybe one of these days he’ll wake up and realize his football team will soon be moving up on two decades without a Super Bowl championship.” . . . In a somewhat related note, nominees for the NFL Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 were announced last week. Jimmy Johnson was one of the coaches on the list. Wouldn’t it be something if Jimmy got voted to the NFL Hall of Fame, yet was still blocked from the Cowboys Ring of Honor by an owner too petty to acknowledge the main reason for three Dallas Super Bowl trophies in the 1990s?

    The Astros recently named their all-time team and what struck me most of all was how many great pitchers they’ve had over the years. What drove home the point was the truly great starters who didn’t make it — J.R. Richard, Don Wilson, Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds and Roger Clemens. Clemens, of course, only spent three seasons with the Astros, but a case could be made for him. The five pitchers who did make it were Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Joe Niekro, Roy Oswalt and Larry Dierker. It would be difficult to argue against any of that group . . . As the Astros limp to the finish line in what will be their second consecutive year of setting a team record for most losses, here’s a head-scratching stat to ponder. Dating back to 2004, Houston is the only National League team with a winning record (35-23) against the Philadelphia Phillies. Yes, the Astros were good during the early part of that period, but they’ve pretty much been in a down cycle starting in 2006. The Phillies, meanwhile, finished either first (5 times) or second (4) times in the NL East during that period. Yet the mostly struggling Astros were Kryptonite to them . . . Nederland ex Alex Moshier is coming off an impressive first season in professional baseball. Signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay, after a dominant senior season working out of Stephen F. Austin’s bullpen, Moshier appeared in 14 games for the Rays team in the Gulf Coast Rookie League and compiled a 2.82 ERA. He was then promoted to the Hudson Valley Renegades for the last three weeks of their season, appeared in four of their six playoff games, did not allow an earned run and picked up a win against the Astros Tri-City affiliate in the league championship series. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was an excellent 21-to-10.

    It’s always puzzled me why the Houston Rockets have not leaned on Hakeem Olajuwon to work with their big men, especially Yao Ming. It puzzles me even more after reading a story this past week that talked about how Hakeem’s been spending NBA off-seasons at his Sugarland ranch. A year ago he schooled LeBron James on post moves, in 2008 and 2009 his star pupil was Kobe Bryant and this past summer he worked with Amare Stoudemire and two other members of the New York Knicks. Both Bryant and James helped their teams win championships after working on both the physical and mental aspects of their game with Olajuwon. Hakeem is effusive in his praise of James and says it’s scary for the rest of the NBA where he can take the Miami Heat . . . Remember the Iowa cornfield made famous in the classic baseball movie “Field of Dreams?” It’s in the process of being converted into a $38 million complex of 24 baseball and softball diamonds with the name “The All-Star Ballpark Heaven.” It’s being developed by a company called “Go the Distance Baseball.” Anyone who watched Field of Dreams can relate to the name. Among the investors is former Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame Wade Boggs. What a bonanza for the tiny town of Dyersville, Iowa . . . It was a huge upset when heavy underdog Kansas State won at Oklahoma last Saturday, but it really shouldn’t have been that big a surprise. Even though it’s always in the lower half of the Big 12 talentwise, Kansas State has the great equalizer in 73-year-old head coach Bill Snyder. Snyder is far and away the best coach in the Big 12 and surely in the top  five in college football. Just ask Texas’ Mack Brown.

    Jamaal Charles 91-yard touchdown run against New Orleans was the longest in the NFL this season, but it would have needed to be three yards longer to even crack the top 10 in league history. Dallas’ Tony Dorsett set the record of 99 yards in 1982. Others in the top five are Green Bay’s Ahman Green (98), Cincinnati’s Corey Dillon (96), San Francisco’s Garrison Hearst (96) and Minnesota’s Chester Taylor (96) . . . If you are a fan of the Houston Texans’ sensational second-year defensive end J.J. Watt, he’s being featured on during a segment with Tom Jackson on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown (ESPN, 9 a.m.). And what does Texans’ defensive coordinator Wade Phillips think of the guy he hand-picked as the Texans’ No. 1 draft choice in 2011? “He’s a perfect guy,” says Wade. “He’s a perfect player for you. He works hard, he studies hard, he plays hard. He’s first in everything he does, all the drills and all that stuff. He’s what you want, plus he’s a great athlete.” . . . Think the Ryder Cup isn’t big business? Check out some of the hospitality options that sold out weeks ahead of time at Medinah Country Club. A private room for 60 people in the clubhouse went for $300,000, and required a $75,000 non-refundable deposit. A 30-person hospitality room in the clubhouse sold for $150,000, and needed a $37,500  A 100-person hospitality chalet fetched $387,000, while a 50-person chalet cost $235,000. Those with somewhat smaller budgets could purchase a 10 person captains club table adjacent to the first hole for a mere $55,000.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at