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Bush league decision?

Sports | Houston takes heat over draft choice

Issue: "Red & blue all over," Sept. 23, 2006

Don't bet that Houston didn't notice New Orleans running back Reggie Bush's NFL debut. On April 29, the Texans passed on the former USC running back and Heisman Trophy winner, instead taking defensive end Mario Williams with the NFL draft's first pick. On Sept. 10, the first Sunday of the new NFL season, Bush premiered with over 100 yards of combined rushing and receiving.

Mario Williams? He managed two tackles in an uninspired debut that saw the Texans drop their opener to Philadelphia. The loss couldn't have been as embarrassing as the fans' reaction to the Texans offense. After some offensive miscues, fans rained down loud boos that could have been directed at the players' ineptitude, the front office's mistakes, or both.

The chain of events following the draft couldn't have gone worse for the Texans. First, the rejection of Bush or even hometown product Vince Young stirred Houston fans and pundits into a frenzy. The Texans front office immediately became a laughingstock: "Ladies and gentlemen, your Houston Texans, an outfit that might do better were Mr. Magoo executing its lottery selections," wrote ESPN.com columnist Len Pasquarelli at the time. And nearly a month after the dubious pick, the mastermind behind the Williams pick, general manager Charley Casserly, stepped down amid reports he was being forced out.

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By the opening of the season, Casserly's logic for snubbing Bush had already been clipped by an injury. Why take Bush when the Texans already had a serviceable runner named Domanick Davis? Casserly argued. But Davis' season ended before it even started when a bone bruise and sore knee forced him to concede all of 2006. Instead of Bush in the backfield, the Texans started the 2006 season with sixth-round rookie Wali Lundy.

Already, sportswriters have posed the obvious question: Will Mario Williams live in greater infamy than Sam Bowie, the Kentucky center Portland drafted ahead of Michael Jordan? Only time will tell, but it could potentially be even worse. Prior to the 1984 NBA draft, picking the 7-foot-1 Bowie over Jordan seemed logical for a Trailblazers team that already featured Clyde Drexler, a star-in-the-making. Criticism for Portland developed over time. In Houston, skepticism developed instantly.

Around the Horn

TRACK: Sprinter Marion Jones may not be a doper after all. Along with a handful of other track stars, a steroid test pegged Jones as a cheater in June. But when her "B Sample" turned up clear of the drug in September, she managed to avoid a suspension that could have ended her career. Still, steroid controversy swirls around Jones, whose name became linked with California steroid lab BALCO in 2004.

GOLF: What kind of boost can the golf economy of the United Kingdom and Ireland expect from Tiger Woods' three weeks of competition? According to research conducted by sponsors of the World Match Play Championship, Woods' late-September tour of the isles will generate $317 million by way of ticket sales, tourism, and sponsorships. After teeing off at the World Match Play, Woods is scheduled to compete in the Ryder Cup (this year in Ireland) and then play in the American Express Championship in England.

TENNIS: Sometimes it's not so bad to go out with a loss. Years from now, the prevailing images of Andre Agassi's final tournament will be from his stunning upset victory over both eighth-seed Marcos Baghdatis and two bulging discs in his back during the second round of the 2006 U.S. Open. The 36-year-old Agassi's Open run and professional career ended on Sept. 3 when he fell in the third round.

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