The Runner Sports

Recalling 1995 NBA Champ Houston Rockets, Astros’ Fans “Never Underestimate The Heart Of A Champion”

As the Houston Astros wrapped up the regular season, Sunday, as the recently-crowned American League Western Division champions, an unknown post-season fate awaits. Having secured home field advantage for the AL Division Series is certainly a good start. Win or lose, whether the Astros take the playoffs short or deep, there’s bound to be memorable quotes uttered by players and, in particular, manager A.J. Hinch.

Just how memorable Hinch’s quotes will be most likely depend on how far he’s able to lead his team to the top of the Everest-like height of a World Series championship. The canon of classic Houston sports quotes includes tough-to-top utterances by the other two Bayou City sports teams and will be hard for Hinch to eclipse.

Luv Ya Blue…Still 

Before 1995, the most iconic and lasting quote in Houston sports history came out of the tobacco-filled mouth of legendary Houston Oilers head coach, the late Bum Phillips: “One year ago, we knocked on the door. This year, we beat on the door. Next year, we’re going to kick the son of a bitch in!”

This memorable “Bum-ism” (and there were many) came on January 7, 1980, and exclaimed to the “Luv Ya Blue” crowd at a pep rally in the packed Astrodome that welcomed the Oilers home after their second straight loss to the Steelers in the AFC championship game. The fact that Houston’s fans came out in such huge numbers to fill the Astrodome to welcome the team after a loss speaks to the enduring love and appreciation they had for their football team, and the team for the fans.

Dream’s Team

Needless to say, Houston fans came up huge again in 1994 and 1995, when a Michael Jordan-less NBA left a power void the Houston Rockets (led by Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon) were willing and dominating enough to fill. After their 1995 Finals sweep of the Orlando Magic, Houston head coach, Rudy Tomjanovich, told a Summit crowd and a TV network audience, “I have one thing to say to those non-believers: Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”

Houston sports fans may be surprised to know that that phrase was not as spontaneous as it seemed. According to the June 12, 2005 Houston Chronicle, Tomjanovich revealed, “Actually, I stole it from Kevin Johnson. After we came back to beat Phoenix in one of those early playoff games, I remember reading his comments. He said, ‘Those guys are like cockroaches. You keep trying to step on them, but they always scurry away and come back. They have the heart of a champion.’ In that moment up there after we clinched, it just came back to me. It was my response to all of the doubters. It said everything about us.”

Houston Astros 2017 AL West Champs Gear

The Harvey Effect (and Hurricane Verlander)

Starting the very minute after the last out is recorded in the playoffs, and for the years following, the Astros’ 2017 season will be measured, dissected, and assessed with the certain mention of two unstoppable forces of nature: The massive devastation wreaked upon the Gulf Coast region by Hurricane Harvey, and the August 31 last-second acquisition of ace starter, Justin Verlander. One did its best to step on the neck of Houston and surrounding region, the Astros, and their fans. The other is doing his best to bring a championship ring he and his new team have never before earned.

And don’t think Houston and its legion of Astro fans don’t know it, or appreciate the diligence and brilliance of the team-building accomplished by GM Jeff Luhnow, Hinch, and the willingness to spend by owner Jim Crane. Average home game attendance has been steadily increasing since 2012, when the team was experiencing its second of three straight 100+ loss seasons (55-107).

From 1.6 million (almost 20,000 average) home attendance in 2012, the gradual increase topped 2 million (26,500 avg) in 2015 (86-76 record), its first winning season since 2008 (86-75). Fans will recall 2015 as the season Houston beat the Yankees, 3-0, in the AL Wild Card game before losing to Kansas City in the ALDS.

Houston’s 2016 attendance topped 2.3 million (28,500 avg), and with a 2017 average of 29,600, the Astros have bested last year’s number with 2,403,671, having closed out their regular season home slate.

Cult of Personalities

Astros fans have manifested their love and support for the team and its players in some very creative ways. When the team’s marketing department rolled out “Keuchel’s Korner” in 2015, folks turned out in fake beards and team-produced orange t-shirts, and rabidly filled the far left field boxes for home games started by Houston’s bearded ace lefty, Dallas Keuchel. T-shirt messages have varied, and have included “We Put Keuchel in a Korner,” “Fear the Beard,” “Let’s Get Beard,” and “Go Beard or Go Home.” By the way, true Texan Astros fans will tell you that Keuchel is the only Dallas they like.

Fans have also picked up outfielder Josh Reddick’s love for wrestling and his lifelong idolization of that sport’s iconic Ric Flair, and his trademark “Woo!” yell. The “Woo-birds” usually populate the right field corner, but the species has also been spotted throughout their Minute Maid Park habitat. Reddick, in fact, can often be found sporting a “Woo!” tank top before and after games. Even more over the top, Reddick has even had a custom-made, oversized, orange and gold Astros championship belt produced, and awards it to each win’s MVP, selected by Reddick himself.

As soon as the Astros clinched the AL West, tickets for the first round of playoff home games for the ALDS sold out in all of two minutes. While it’s been a dozen years since Houston’s last appearance in a World Series (as National League Champs battling the Chicago White Sox), fans are hoping this team will actually “show up.” In 2005, the Sox swept the Series from the ‘Stros, 4-0.

Crush City Crusade

For 2017, Hinch has seemingly adopted Bum Phillips’ recipe for winning: “How do you win? By getting average players to play good and good players to play great. That’s how you win.” In fact, that’s been the model of construction employed by Luhnow, as well, often acquiring former “scrap-heap” players or otherwise “cheap” players, and attempting to coach them into playing over their heads, or even reinventing their careers.

It’s time for Hinch to add his own contribution to the championship canon of Houston sports quotes. Now, at the culmination of a five-year team re-build with the inspirational crusade to re-construct a city and its spirit, 2017 would seem to be the year.

The Astros, to a man, seem to be motivated and driven to bring home a championship for Space City. They are driven to win, now, by Houston’s fans. The fans have been there before for the Oilers and the Rockets, and the fans will continue to be there for the Astros.

Don’t underestimate them.

Related: Astros Employ Shovel, Not Broom, To Dispatch Rangers; Won’t Start Verlander Until ALDS, Game 1

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

At TRS, you'll get full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and maybe a little rock'n'roll!
Brad Kyle