‘ALL HE WANTED WAS TO WIN’

PLAY­ERS, COACHES, FEL­LOW OWNERS, FANS PAY FI­NAL TRIB­UTE TO TEX­ANS FOUNDER

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - By David Bar­ron

As Hous­ton con­cluded a week of re­flec­tion and re­mem­brance Fri­day, the nor­mal tu­mult of NRG Sta­dium gave way to the strains of hymns and gen­tle words of praise for Bob McNair, the soft-spo­ken but deeply in­flu­en­tial owner of the Tex­ans.

With Tex­ans play­ers and coaches and sev­eral of his fel­low NFL owners in at­ten­dance, McNair, who died Nov. 23 at 81, was eu­lo­gized by for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James Baker, NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell and oth­ers as one who em­bod­ied the same traits as the late Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush of hon­esty, hard work and love of coun­try.

With McNair’s death in such close prox­im­ity to that of the late pres­i­dent, Baker said, “Hous­ton has lost two of its very great­est and most ad­mired adopted sons.”

Baker’s re­marks were the key­note of an hour-long ser­vice at­tended by about 1,000 peo­ple seated on the floor of the sta­dium — de­scried by Baker as “the house that Bob McNair built” — that Sun­day will host the Tex­ans’ game against the In­di­anapo­lis Colts.

With a vic­tory Sun­day, the Tex­ans will ex­tend their win­ning streak to 10 games and take an­other step to­ward a play­off berth and what sev­eral speak­ers de­scribed Fri­day as McNair’s ul­ti­mate goal for his adopted home­town.

And while the fo­cus of the ser­vice was on McNair’s faith, phi­lan­thropy and love of fam­ily and of Hous­ton, of course there had to be at least a lit­tle foot­ball talk.

“Not to put any more pres­sure on you, coach, or the team,” Good­ell said, re­fer­ring to Tex­ans coach Bill O’Brien, “but you know how much Bob wanted to win a Su­per Bowl.”

And, given McNair’s love of pol­i­tics dat­ing to his col­lege days, it wasn’t out of place for Baker to note that both he and McNair were con­verted from Democrats to Repub­li­cans by Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

The me­mo­rial ser­vice for McNair, who paid $700 mil­lion in 1999 to bring the NFL back to Hous­ton, prompt­ing the con­struc­tion of NRG Sta­dium as a home for the NFL and the Hous­ton Live­stock Show and Rodeo, re­flected his char­ac­ter­is­tic traits of which Baker and oth­ers spoke.

Fri­day’s eu­lo­gies were pre­ceded as guests ar­rived by a mon­tage of pho­tos of McNair and his wife Jan­ice, with Tex­ans play­ers and fans, in­clud­ing the late pres­i­dent and Pres­i­dent

Ge­orge W. Bush.

Among those on hand were Dom Capers, the team’s first head coach, and Charley Casserly, its first gen­eral man­ager, along with the cur­rent play­ers and coaches, who filed onto the sta­dium floor en masse min­utes be­fore the me­mo­rial ser­vice be­gan.

“He was a good boss,” Tex­ans de­fen­sive line­man J.J. Watt said of McNair af­ter the ser­vice. “He was al­ways around. He wanted to know how things were go­ing.

“All he wanted was to win, and that is why it’s fun to be on a nine-game win­ning streak, be­cause we know that is what he would want. We hope we can keep it go­ing.”

If they do, per­haps in the off­ing will be an­other en­counter with Texas’ other NFL team – the Dal­las Cow­boys — and their owner Jerry Jones, who had tears in his eyes as he spoke of McNair.

“The only other time I teared up was right on this field, when the Tex­ans and Bob kicked our butts in the first game that was played in this sta­dium (in 2002),” Jones said. “It was a glo­ri­ous night to be­gin the Tex­ans.

“Bob was so spe­cial. I was ex­cited for Hous­ton to get an NFL fran­chise, and I was par­tic­u­larly ex­cited when I saw the char­ac­ter of the per­son who was go­ing to lead the way in Bob. … He will be missed. He will be an in­spi­ra­tion. He loved his play­ers and was al­ways so sup­port­ive of the NFL, the play­ers and what we could do to make it good for the play­ers.”

The ser­vice in­cluded per­for­mances of the hymns “How Great Thou Art,” “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” “Pre­cious Lord Take My Hand” and “I’ll Fly Away” by Hous­ton Grand Opera soloists Ni­cole Heas­ton and Ben Edquist.

Prayers were of­fered by the Rev. Eric S.C. Man­ning of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., and by the Rev. Dave Peter­son, pas­tor emer­i­tus of Me­mo­rial Drive Pres­by­te­rian Church, where McNair and his wife were long­time mem­bers.

Man­ning asked that the McNair fam­ily re­mem­ber “in the still­ness of the night that earth has no sor­row that heaven can­not heal.” Peter­son said that through the power of the Almighty, “we take com­fort in trust­ing that be­cause Bob is with you, and you are with us, that in some mys­te­ri­ous way, we are still to­gether.”

Good­ell said that while McNair owned the NFL’s youngest fran­chise, he helped lead the NFL and his fel­low owners with “in­tegrity, prin­ci­ple and ef­fec­tive­ness.”

“Bob was not in this for him­self,” Good­ell said. “He wanted to re­turn the NFL to Hous­ton be­cause of his tremen­dous loy­alty to this com­mu­nity. … He was a homer for Hous­ton, as he liked to say.”

Harris Pastides, pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of South Carolina, McNair’s alma mater, spoke of McNair’s sup­port for schol­ar­ship pro­grams in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Peter­son said that McNair of­fered a fi­nal ex­pres­sion of his faith when he vis­ited the owner on Thanks­giv­ing at a Hous­ton hos­pi­tal. He said McNair told him, “I just want to go home and meet Je­sus there.”

“So the next day, Bob was taken home. He was laid in his bed, and within a mat­ter of min­utes, as Jan­ice said, he qui­etly slipped away.”

In ac­cor­dance with that faith, Baker said he was con­fi­dent that McNair was wel­comed into heaven by St. Peter, “who opened his arms and said, ‘Wel­come to heaven, Bob McNair. You have won the Su­per Bowl of life.”

Pho­tos by Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell said Bob McNair helped lead the league and his fel­low owners with “in­tegrity, prin­ci­ple and ef­fec­tive­ness” and that the Tex­ans owner wanted to re­turn the NFL to Hous­ton be­cause of his loy­alty to his com­mu­nity.

Fri­day’s pub­lic me­mo­rial ser­vice was an emo­tional one, es­pe­cially for mem­bers of the Tex­ans, in­clud­ing Luke Riches­son, se­nior di­rec­tor of sports per­for­mance, who shares a mo­ment with de­fen­sive back An­dre Hal, left.

Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Tex­ans de­fen­sive end J.J. Watt said team owner Bob McNair “was a good boss. He was al­ways around. He wanted to know how things were go­ing.”

Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Tex­ans head coach Bill O’Brien, cen­ter, was among those cel­e­brat­ing the life of team owner Bob McNair.

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