Real Houston fans know that pain is just part of the game, whether they're from downtown Houston or nearby Sugar Land. While the city has seen some incredible wins, it’s also seen some spectacular losses, many of which have made their way into sports history books.
Let’s look back on the best and worst moments in Houston athletics, mainly from major professional sports teams.
While you’re at it, take a browse through our Houston collection of t-shirts, wall decor, and tank tops for real locals.
Houston has hosted some of history’s biggest sporting events at many a venue – and it has many. From Toyota Center, Aveva Stadium, TDECU Stadium, Constellation Field, and Memorial Park, Houston is a sports city no matter where you turn. Houston fans have celebrated some huge wins over the years. These are the greatest.
This is one of our favorites and a favorite of area residents, if only because of how unlikely it seemed during the middle of the 94–95 season. The Rockets first faced the New York Knicks (and Patrick Ewing) and then the San Antonio Spurs the second go around. The Rockets were boosted by Hakeem Olajuwon, who won MVP in ’94. He’ll go down as one of the greatest players of all time, helping Houston earn its first and second NBA trophies – back-to-back NBA titles, no less – within two years.
One of Houston’s biggest sports moments didn’t come from a Houston sports team. Bobby Riggs, a formerly ranked tennis player, and self-proclaimed “male chauvinist,” claimed that he could still beat a woman in a match at any age. Legendary player and 29-year-old Billie Jean King took that challenge on. The match drew 30,000 to the Houston Astrodome, and 50 million watched on TV. In the end, Billie Jean King’s victory stood for not only the legitimacy of women’s tennis but also for women’s rights in general.
A turning point for NCAA sports, the Game of the Century refers to the regular season face-off between the University of Houston and the University of California: Los Angeles.
Another event held at the Astrodome, it was attended by 52,693 spectators and broadcasted nationally during primetime. That type of viewership was unheard of for basketball at the time. The closest fans were 100 yards from the court, but that didn’t stop the crowd from achieving a deafening roar. UH won in the end, 71-69, ending UCLA’s winning streak, and NCAA sports were forever propelled into the mainstream.
Another jewel in the crown of the Astrodome is Mike Scott’s legendary no-hitter. In 1986, the Astros pitcher threw 13 strikeouts and walked 2, leading the team into the record books. To this day, they are the only team to clinch a division title with a no-hitter. After the game, Scott said, “I'm numb, I'm tired, but this is fantastic.” And it really was.
When the Oilers left Houston in 1996, the city thought it had lost a home team – and one of the best football teams in the NFL – forever. Then came 2002 and the introduction of the Houston Texans.
In the franchise opener, Houston was set to play Dallas and the odds were heavily stacked against them. A tied score had those odds on their head by the third quarter, and in the end, Seth Payne secured a safety with just two minutes left in the game. We know people say this a lot, but it’s no exaggeration to say the crowd went wild. Houston football was back, and for all the hardship the Texans have faced since, they’ll always be debut winners.
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Houston sports have been the butt end of the joke on more than a few late-night TV shows, and we’re sorry to say there’s some reasoning there.
Keep reading for the lowest moments in the city’s history. If you call Houston home, you already know these stories well. Tread lightly–this may hurt a bit.
In the last decade, the Astros became one of the most dominant professional major league teams in the MLB. They made Minute Maid Park proud and won the World Series in 2017. It looked like they were ready to win more. Around that time, rumors of sign stealing started to circle, and an investigation from the MLB found just that.
The Astros players would bang on a trashcan to indicate to the batter what kind of pitch to expect. This scandal set off a massive conversation around sign-stealing because the Astros certainly were not the only team doing it. The team got to keep their ring, but the story dulled the glow of their incredible winning season and the legacy of their MVP, Jose Altuve.
You know a game is bad when it gets its own title. In Buffalo, they refer to this 1993 game as “The Comeback.” In Houston, “The Choke.” Shortly after halftime, the Oilers were winning, 35–3. New York fans were heading home. This game was over–until it wasn’t. In 6 minutes and 52 seconds, the Bills tightened their deficit to only four points, in an incredible rally the NFL rarely sees. The rest is history. The Bills won in overtime and completed the greatest comeback ever. We still need a tissue for this one.
On May 12, 1994, the Houston Chronicle published their daily paper with the headline “CHOKE CITY” splashed across the front page. The Rockets had just blown two games against the Suns where they were well-up in the fourth quarter, and their prospects of winning another NBA title seemed low. Memories of the Oilers’ choke were still fresh.
In short, Houston sports were getting a bad name. The silver lining on this dark cloud? The Rockets would come back and win that series, then the Championship, and Houston would gain a new nickname: “Clutch City.”
Sure, the Oilers had their highs and lows, but that doesn’t mean anyone in Houston was happy to see the team move to Nashville. By 1996, the Astrodome had lost most of its sheen, dulling in comparison to other NFL arenas like NRG Stadium.
Owner Bud Adams pleaded with the city for a new stadium but after no deal was made, he decided to relocate to Tennessee. First, the team would play in Houston for two more years, while an arena was built in Nashville (this became Vanderbilt Stadium). You can imagine how this went over. Attendance waned dramatically and Bud Adams became the most hated man in Houston.
In some ways, it’s an honor just to appear at the World Series. In other ways, it doesn’t mean much without the ring. In 2005, the Houston Astros had an explosive postseason that ended in their first franchise appearance in the MLB Championship. A turning point in Houston baseball, the ’05 Astros had overcome the odds and were looking to make an upset. The Chicago White Sox had other ideas, sweeping the series in just four games and earning their third championship title. Sigh.
When sports are good in Houston, they are glorious. When sports are bad in Houston, they are tortuous. But this great city, home to so many iconic sports moments, knows that patience and loyalty wins out.
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