To say a lot has happened on the Houston professional sports scene these past few days in an understatement. Within the span of 24 hours, Houston lost two of its most prominent young sports stars. For the Houston Astros, All-Star Carlos Correa left the team he helped led to four division championships, three AL pennants, and one World Series title for the colder air of Minnesota. The other saw former Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson traded to the Cleveland Browns for five draft picks.
While Correa is as much a business decision as anything, Watson’s situation is far different. There is a concept that comes to mind when discussing Watson’s time in Houston. The concept: The Greek Tragedy.
When we hear the word “tragedy” in modern lexicon, it is meant to evoke a sense of significant loss and hardship, with those at the center of that event worthy of an outsider’s sympathy. For the ancient Greeks, the Tragedy was defined as: “a play in which the protagonist, usually a person of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he or she cannot deal.” This does not necessarily mean that the protagonist is always likable. Nor are the circumstances of his downfall always meant to engender sympathy.
Thus, we return to the tragedy of Deshaun Watson in Houston. He had the making of a heroic tale. A young kid who grew up in difficult circumstances, Watson found success on the football field, setting multiple Georgia high school state records. At Clemson, overcoming a devastating injury, he led the Tigers to consecutive National Championship game appearances against Alabama. The second matchup, his final game in college, saw him lead Clemson to a last second walk-off touchdown, securing the university its first national title in nearly 25 years. Watson then became a first round draft pick for the quarterback-starved Texans.
From there, Watson’s heroic tale took off. His electric, if all-too-short, rookie year. The back-to-back division titles in 2018 and 2019. Watson’s signature play against the Bills’ pass rushers to execute a checkdown pass that led to a walk-off field goal for his first playoff win. Factor in his off-field demeanor, starting with him donating his first game check to NRG Stadium cafeteria workers impacted by Hurricane Harvey. How he helmed a Houston team that jumped up to a 24-0 lead against the Chiefs the following season in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, with the chance to host the franchise’s, and city’s first home conference championship game…
If a tragedy calls for unforeseen events to befall the protagonist, here is arguably where it starts. In that game, early in the second quarter, Houston led 24-0. They were outscored 51-7 the rest of the way. From there, the on-field fortunes of Watson and the team went from bad to worse. The terrible personnel decisions. COVID-19 and a season disrupted. A career year from Watson that yielded only four wins. Then the 2020-2021 offseason, when Watson is promised a say in the leadership decision process, only to be shut out. Thus, the one-time franchise player called for his immediate trade, all but swearing an oath by the River Styx to never play for Houston again.
Shortly after this time, we saw the emergence of the fatal flaw that dooms the protagonist. By all accounts, Watson brought no off-field baggage/issues. Yet the temptation of being a young, athletic superstar with money/looks/fame in a large media market and all that brings, perhaps tempted Watson to give in to his darker urges and desires. Thus, the news in March 2021 of Watson being accused by multiple women of various forms of sexual harassment and/or assault. At this point, Watson’s self-confidence morphed into a dangerous arrogance.
The descent escalated. Sponsors dropped him in droves. No team would offer a trade that the Texans could accept, knowing the implications and the potential loss it might mean. Watson remained on the Texans and drew a salary, but did not play a down for the squad in 2021, which finished its first season since Watson’s arrival with the same number of wins as the last season which Watson started.
Houston shunned its once favored son, and Watson returned the favor. With the Harris County District Attorney’s office declining to indict, Watson could find greener pastures, and the Texans could find compensation for off-loading one of its most toxic assets. Upon receiving the offer he couldn’t refuse, Watson jumped to Cleveland and Houston received significant draft compensation. Was it best offer for the team? At this point, who knows? Ultimately, the break finally happened, and both parties can move on with their respective lives.
For Houston fans, this was not the desired ending. Watson would not be the heroic figure who gave Houston the sports crown it desires above all. He seemed on the path to ultimate glory, perhaps to eclipse even Hakeem Olajuwon, Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt. Now, Watson leaves the city a shunned king. Whether he is on the field in 2022 when Cleveland and Houston meet or some other time in the future, the reception will be perhaps one of the most unwelcome in Houston history. To date, Watson has shown no signs of remorse or has not offered any farewell message to the city or its fans, and it is likely never to come.
Admittedly, this play does not have a final act. We don’t know what the legal system will say of the civil suits or any future criminal charges. Does Watson’s fall continue and the trade to Cleveland ring of the exile of the blind Oedipus? Will the Texans continue to pay for the flaws of its once hero as the draft picks from Cleveland yield little to nothing in return? Or does Watson buck the Greek Tragedy and write the classic American “redemption” story? Do the Texans somehow recover and in contrast to many of the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles, turn this time of sorrow into the next Frank Capra movie?
From this author’s perspective, I certainly want the Capra ending for the Texans. As for Watson, at this point, I care not if he finds redemption. I don’t know what all he is guilty of, or if it is a mass conspiracy. The thing is, he has moved on, and so have I. Let the Texans rebuild and perhaps they may find a franchise QB who will not star in another classic tragedy.