July 22, 2002
Lucky and Good
by Bob Hulsey
The old wheeze goes, "It’s better to be lucky than good." And Houston Texans owner Bob McNair is a very lucky man. To start with, to even be in a position to write out a check for $700 million so grown men in pads can shove each other around for three hours on Sunday in your hometown, life must be very good. None of us will ever even come close to the fortune needed to pay for such a luxury.
But to be the owner of the NFL’s newest team, a lot of things had to go just right for McNair. And, in building it, his good luck seems to continue.
Consider that McNair brings football back to Houston in the wake of former NFL ownership that had an uncanny knack for alienating their fan base. And while Bud Adams can’t be held personally responsible for blown calls, untimely interceptions and 32-point chokes, he can be held responsible for the unstable atmosphere and the never-ending coaches carousel that always seemed to keep the community at arm’s length, dreading the next meltdown. Anyone care to guess how many head coaches Adams went through while the Dallas Cowboys had Tom Landry as head coach? Try 13. But I digress.
What this means is that McNair does not exactly have a hard act to follow in order to win the loyalty of Houston fans. He just needs to show better stewardship than the last NFL franchise in town.
With all his resources built from the world of buying and selling energy, McNair started small. Chuck Watson talked him into going along to help lure an expansion team for Houston – an ice hockey team. McNair’s name first surfaced in the sports pages when attempts were made to get an NHL franchise for H-town. Had he succeeded, that might have been all Bob would be known for today.
But the NHL gave McNair and Houston the cold shoulder and he turned his attention to the new void in the local sports scene – pro football. It became a scenario filled with fortunate coincidences.
Lucky for Houston that the Minnesota Vikings came one step short of reaching the Super Bowl in 1997. Vikings owner Red McCombs, a car dealer from San Antonio, was itching for a good excuse to bring his NFL team to the Alamodome which might have removed Houston as a viable contender for an NFL team. With the Vikings’ success, McCombs would have to cool his heels and stay in the icy Midwest.
Lucky McNair was that not only did Adams vacate Houston but that Art Modell vacated Cleveland for the jilted fans of Baltimore. The outrage of Browns fans led to a promise to create a 31st franchise. Since odd numbers don’t work very well in making a full schedule, the NFL quickly put out bids for a 32nd team.
Paul Tagliabue darned near guaranteed that team would be based in Los Angeles and did all he could to make that happen. Unfortunately, nobody in Southern California could put together a suitable bid even after deadlines were extended. Only one other suitor dared to offer to put the team somewhere other than L.A. It was Lucky Bob.
Bob got to write out that hefty check to join a very exclusive club because the city had already approved the building of a new state-of-the-art retractable-roof palace in the parking lot of the old Eighth Wonder of the World so the new team could do battle in style. Again, lucky for Bob.
McNair seemed to spare no expense in building a practice and training facility, which became a selling point to prospective free agents unsure of whether to cast their lot with an unproven startup.
He had the good fortune of having almost three years to prepare for battle, securing the services of a proven winner in General Manager Charley Casserly and a head coach, Dom Capers, experienced in building a team from scratch and getting fast results. They had the track record of three recent NFL expansion franchises to assess what worked and what didn’t.
But it gets even better. McNair’s new property happens to come along at a time when other NFL teams are reeling from a salary cap hangover, dangling Pro Bowl talent in the expansion draft rather than the usual assortment of castoffs, has-beens and spare parts. Casserly also comes up with a scheme to get some other quality players exposed in return for picking up some big contracts.
The Texans get the first pick in the draft and along comes a golden-armed small town kid who says all the right things, works hard to learn the playbook and seems like the least likely candidate to be seen in a mug shot. What more could one could ask for in an overall number one pick?
There’s even a good chance that when the Texans hit the field in a sold out Reliant Stadium this September that there will not even be a pennant race to distract our focus from professional football. The Texans might be the only pro game in town.
There’s a long way to go but so much has gone right so far, one wonders how long the roll will last and whether Lucky Bob will survive the initial hits an expansion team will surely take and come out looking like the champion Houstonians have long pined for in the only sport that matters to many in these parts.
McNair is already 65 years old and, unlike the young Bud Adams of 1960, he won’t have decades to reach the promised land. One would expect he has maybe 10-to-15 years at best to leave his mark on the franchise before others run the show. He relishes the challenge.
"I’ve been the underdog before and I don’t mind being the underdog," he recently told CNNSI.com. It took a lot of beating the odds just to make it this far.
Another old saying goes that luck is the residue of design. One has to be in the position to take advantage of the opportunities luck can hand you. McNair deserves a lot of credit for doing everything he can to get this franchise off on solid footing. He has sunk almost as much into facilities and personnel as he has just in acquiring the franchise. And he’s done so in an humble, positive and straight-forward manner.
A lot of luck has given us the Houston Texans. A lot of design has gone into building the franchise. I wouldn’t bet against Bob McNair someday reaching the pinnacle of holding up the Lombardi Trophy. Lucky and good is a combination that usually triumphs.
Bob Hulsey has a Bachelor of Journalism degree, briefly worked in radio, and now labors for a major telecommunications company. HoustonProFootball.com also showcases his previous work, Pro Log: From George To George, a look back at Houston’s storied football past.
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