History of the ‘Powerhouse’: An Introduction to the legacy of UH athletics

When it comes to the history of the 'powerhouse,' one of the memories that come to mind are the Phi Slama Jama days, which was led by head coach Guy V. Lewis. | Houstonian 1968

When it comes to the history of the ‘powerhouse,’ one of the memories that come to mind are the Phi Slama Jama days, which was led by head coach Guy V. Lewis. | Houstonian 1968

College and sports have always walked hand in hand in this country. They’re more of a pair than Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the University of Houston and Cougar red.

So when certain universities are brought up in the conversation, oftentimes the first thought that comes to mind is that college’s football team, basketball team or another program that the school is well known for.

You can’t discuss Duke without mentioning legendary basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and you can’t talk about Alabama and forget to mention their football dynasty. College sports creates memories for not only current students, but for faculty members, families and both local and global fans as well.

Those who experienced Michigan Basketball’s “Fab Five” in the ‘90s will likely cherish those memories forever; and whether you were in the stands for Doug Flutie’s iconic hail mary against Miami in 1984, or watched from home as Vince Young led Texas to a charging comeback victory against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, you’ll likely agree that college sports have been responsible for a few absolutely phenomenal moments.

It’s the combination of these historic moments that build the programs that will forever be cemented in sports heaven.

Florida, North Carolina and Notre Dame each have distinguished histories that usually push them to the top of many lists. Ohio State, Penn State and Florida State are almost always in the conversation as well, but as time moves along, history is made, and when the best programs in the country are evaluated, it is only a matter of time before a new university enters the chat.

Houston is no stranger to athletic mastery. Across the board, UH has had its fair share of success in sports. The men’s basketball program in the early-to-mid ‘80s featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, nicknamed “Phi Slama Jama,” is often remembered as one of the best collegiate teams ever assembled. In 1989, UH’s Andre Ware became the first black quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.

Houston’s track and field program has an illustrious history that includes the likes of 10-time Olympic medalist Carl Lewis, and current head coach, Leroy Burrell, who is a successful Olympian in his own right.

There are hundreds of good collegiate athletic programs, but only a few legendary ones. It’s the universities that are able to dominate in multiple sports that become the modern-day “powerhouses.”

These are the schools that compete year-to-year for championships. Each offseason they can land the top recruits in the nation, and their student athletes train in the finest state-of-the-art facilities on the planet.

So where does Houston, the self-proclaimed “powerhouse,” rank amongst the other all-time great college programs? The answer to this question cannot be determined in a single article; it especially cannot be determined by a single person.

UH sponsors 15 athletic programs. Some are newer than others, but each has its own respective history.

Over the course of the next few weeks, The Cougar will be delving into as much of that history as possible. Our goal is to examine the complete history of the “powerhouse.”

When it’s all said and done, it will be up to you to decide for yourself where Houston ranks among the all-time greats.

Each issue of the series will cover a different UH organization, exploring the team’s early years, the high point in their existence and where they currently sit in the present day.

Welcome to the history of the powerhouse.

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