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Gone but not forgotten: memories of Bob McNair

Bob McNair’s gone, but we’ll be reminded of him for many years to come.

Because of his generosity, you’ll likely see his name if you visit the zoo, or a hospital, or watch a play in a theater. In the next year or so, I’m pretty certain you’ll see his name join Andre Johnson’s in the Texans ring of honor.

He spread his personal wealth around the city and country to those who could use it, and he did so to the tune of a half billion dollars. And that’s just the money we know about. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle pointed out Friday night that McNair quietly gave money to an array of people who needed it, and he’d never let it get publicized.

I have some fond memories of him, and the first one starts with “Don’t call him ‘Owner’.”

I can’t remember what the story was about, or when exactly I wrote it, but the first article I penned about Bob McNair had a mistake in the first sentence. I was told, politely, by a coworker that McNair preferred the title of Founder, Chairman and CEO. I always liked the ‘Founder’ title of his, because in the late 1990’s, Houston was in the football desert. The Oilers, who broke our hearts so creatively at the end of the 1970’s, and then again and again a decade and change later, had fled to Tennessee. Sundays were weird here after they left.

But McNair was dogged in his determination to get an NFL franchise, and in 2002 he and the Texans kicked back off with a bang. He ‘founded’ the team that was ours, and Sundays haven’t been the same. Sure: we’ve seen just four playoff teams in the club’s history. But so many people are employed directly, and indirectly, by the Texans. It wouldn’t have happened without him.

McNair also had a delightful sense of humor. In 2011, nose tackle Shaun Cody and the squad were living the high life. They’d peel off seven straight wins en route to the team’s first division title, using three different starters at quarterback to do so. Cody had his video series “On the Nose”, and he got everybody involved. Including McNair.

It’s the only time I saw Cody get nervous, but McNair and his son Cal strolled in and immediately lightened the mood. He was up for anything Cody asked. He put on eye-black strips. He had his dress shoes and argyle socks taped up by the trainers. He chest-bumped Cody.

After we recorded it, Cody had an action shot of himself printed up, and he autographed it, with the special note “To Bobby Mac”. McNair framed it and had it in his office at the stadium, where it still sits today.

McNair was a competitive man, and really wanted to see a Texans Super Bowl victory. To that end, he wasn’t afraid to sign free agents. Sometimes, it worked out perfectly: Antonio Smith, Johnathan Joseph and now Tyrann Mathieu are a few who come to mind.

When the news broke nationally that Houston would sign quarterback Brock Osweiler in March of 2016, there was a buzz in the building and a buzz for the Texans. At that point, there was a great optimism for Osweiler’s and the Texans future. Before the t’s were crossed and I’s were dotted on the contract, though, we couldn’t confirm the news.

I walked down the hall for something, and came upon McNair and his son Cal. He saw me grinning—hey, we thought we had a franchise QB!—and said with a devilish grin, “You like that action?”

The Texans ultimately parted ways with Osweiler after a year, but that winding path eventually led to the trade up for Deshaun Watson. McNair, like the rest of us, was very excited about the Texans’ future with him under center. Last spring, when I interviewed him for a Texans TV feature, McNair was very confident Watson would eventually lead the franchise to Super Bowl victories.

When that day happens, and it will, we’re going to be very happy. I just wish McNair could be there with us.

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