Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Houston v. Washington

There are few major American cities with fewer sports showdowns than Houston and Washington.  Houston didn't start playing major pro sports until the early 1960's, and since that time Houston teams and Washington teams have almost always been in different conferences, or divisions, or whatever you want to call them.  So a Houston/Washington match-up is something that you would only see in the finals.  And since Houston's teams historically haven't been very good -- and since Washington's teams historically have been horrific -- there hasn't been much chance of that.

There are a few connections.  Sam Houston was a Congressman and Senator who spent a lot of time in Washington.  You can (and should) read about him in Profiles in Courage.  Here are some true facts about Sam Houston:

1.  In 1827, at the age of only 34, Houston was elected governor of Tennessee.  At the time, he seemed the logical successor to Andrew Jackson.

2.  In January 1829, Houston married the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner in Gallatin, Tennessee.

3.  Three months later, Houston's marriage collapsed, he resigned as governor, and he left Tennessee to go live with the Cherokee in Arkansas.

4.  Seven years after that, he was the President of the Independent Republic of Texas.

I'm not sure that I'm aware of any other politician in American history who resigned his office because of problems in his marriage -- much less someone who left their home state altogether and never ran for office there again.

Here's another connection between Houston and Washington.  When you fly from one to the other, you will usually go from the Ronald Reagan National Airport (in Washington) to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.  For those of us who came of age in the 1980's, the idea of connecting Reagan to Bush is very entertaining.  (The Houston Airport is named after Reagan's former VP, not the other George Bush who became President).

Anyway, that's about it.  But I did find one interesting Washington/Houston game.  On November 3, 1991, the Redskins hosted the Oilers at RFK Stadium.  This was a big-time game.  The Redskins were 8-0, and in the midst of their best-ever season.  The Oilers were 7-1, and riding a four-game winning streak.  They were also coached by Jack Pardee, who had coached the Redskins until he was fired in 1980 -- to be replaced by Joe Gibbs.  Pardee spent several years in the USFL, then he coached the University of Houston, which was on probation for two of the three years he was there.  In 1990, he took over the Oilers.  And now he and Warren Moon had Houston on a massive roll.

A lot of folks thought that the Oilers/Redskins game was a preview of Super Bowl of XXVI, and it was a great game.  Both offenses struggled, and the score was 13-13 late in the game when Houston got a turnover deep in Washington territory.  It looked like Houston was going to win.  With four seconds to go, they sent in Ian Howfield to kick a 33-yard field goal for the victory.  This was Howfield's first season as a regular in the NFL, and the ninth game in which he had appeared.  He had already made two field goals.  But he missed this one, and the game went to overtime.  In overtime, Darrell Green intercepted Warren Moon's first pass, and the Redskins suddenly had their own chance to win the game.  Chip Lohmiller did not miss, and the Redskins won 16-13.

Pardee, a former Redskins linebacker who was returning to RFK Stadium for the first time since he had been fired after the 1980 season, was extremely disappointed.  After the game, he said:  "I’m real proud of this team. We had a great performance. We showed poise and maturity. We had chances. We just didn’t end up on top. I thought our kicking game had been superior all day. It’s unfortunate that the game often comes down to kicking.”

Ian Howfield was cut by the Oilers after the loss.  He never appeared in another NFL game.

The Redskins, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl.  The Oilers finished the season 11-5, and won a wild card game against the Jets to face Denver.  Since the Oilers had gone 11-5, and the Broncos had gone 12-4, the divisional playoff between them was held in Denver.  The Oilers were up 21-13 at the half, but like so many other teams, they faded down the stretch in the high altitude of Denver.  John Elway pulled a typical comeback, and Denver won the game 26 to 24.  If the Oilers had beaten Washington, would they have had the home field?  Could that have made the difference?  We'll never know.

Al Del Greco made one of two field goal attempts for Houston in the game.

Pardee was a really good coach, and Moon was a really good quarterback, but they never could get over the top.  Houston gave up on them a few years later, trading Moon and later firing Pardee.  Soon after that the Oilers gave up altogether -- moving to Tennessee and finally reaching the Super Bowl under a different name.  Of course, now Houston has a solid football team, and the Redskins are a joke, so history is often longer and more complicated than we realize.  It just wasn't long enough for Jack Pardee.

Not counting this year, Houston and Washington have appeared in the World Series a total of only five times -- far fewer than, say, Brooklyn, which hasn't fielded an MLB team since 1957.  But this year one of those two long-suffering fan bases will be very happy.

Previous appearances in the World Series:

Houston (1-1):  2005, 2017

Washington (1-2):  1924, 1925, 1933

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