EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the *Houston Texans Gameday magazine for the Jan. 7 Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the first playoff game in Texans franchise history.*
In 2002, Bob McNair brought professional football back to the city of Houston. It had gone away in 1997 when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee and eventually became the Tennessee Titans.
McNair was awarded the NFL's 32nd franchise on Oct. 6, 1999, for a record sum of $700 million, ending a two-year-long effort to secure an expansion team for the Bayou City.
In their 10th season, McNair and the Texans finally reached the playoffs. The Texans' founder, chairman and CEO took time in advance of today's game to reflect on the 2011 Houston Texans and their against-all-odds AFC South Championship season.
How excited are you to finally be in the playoffs?
"It's an exciting time for us. We worked long and hard to get to this point. Everyone in the city is extremely excited. This is what it's all about. The great pleasure in all this is to see how happy Houston citizens are when we accomplish things like winning our division. It's very gratifying."
Having lived in Houston with your wife, Janice, since 1960, what does it mean to you to be able to deliver a playoff team to the city?
"Well, it's really why I got involved in pursuing an NFL franchise. I wanted to be in the position to bring a championship to Houston. This is just one step along that path. It's the first step, and it's a necessary step or you don't have a chance to pursue the ultimate goal. So, it's really exciting for us to be in this position."
Did you think it would take this long to get to this point?
"No, I didn't. I didn't expect the wheels to fall off the way they did back in 2005, because we had been making real progress each year. But boy, it just all came apart that year. That set us back a couple years. We had to start over again. We had to bring in a new coaching staff, a new general manager and scouts. Really, you have to rebuild. That set us back, but the last four years, and I've been saying this all along, we've been a very competitive team. We've been very close to having an outstanding team. This is the first year that we've pushed it over the top, but we've been very close these other years. It's something that I knew was attainable, but we hadn't done it. Until you do it, you just have to try to be patient."
You and general manager Rick Smith share the philosophy of building the team through the draft and around core young players. Is this season an affirmation that that's the right way to go about it?
"I don't think there's any question about it, because when you look at the key injuries we've had this year – at the first of the year, if you would've asked me if we were going to lose Andre Johnson for half a year, and we lose Mario Williams for basically the whole year, and we lose Arian Foster for the first 3-4 games to injury and then the recovery from it, and then we'll lose our first-string quarterback, Matt Schaub, and our second-string quarterback and we're going to be playing with a third-string rookie quarterback, where do you think you would finish? It would not have been the playoffs. I think it's remarkable, and I don't know if people really fully appreciate what this team has done. It's unbelievable."
How has the team succeeded through all that adversity?
"I think our emphasis on getting the right kind of people in the locker room has paid off. We've said we want people of good character and people that were disciplined and people that were unselfish. I think that what you've seen is a group of unselfish players that are great teammates step up and support each other. When someone went down, it was just, 'OK, next guy up, and we expect you to step in there and just get the job done and we're going to be supportive.' People didn't look around and start pointing their fingers and say, 'Oh, well, what happened? Why did this person get injured? Was that somebody's fault? What is it that we should be doing that we're not doing?' We didn't have that kind of finger-pointing. Instead, everybody said, 'Well, let's just be supportive of each other and I've got your back, let's go.' We've been able to accomplish what we have as a result of that type of attitude."
How much of that is a credit to the head coach, Gary Kubiak?
"I think a large measure of it should go to him as credit, because he was able to keep the team focused and just thinking about the next game and not accepting any excuses. Excuses don't help us. We don't need any excuses. To keep the players focused on the future and what's happening going forward and not worrying about the past, and if we all go out and do our job, everything's going to be fine, I think it's to his credit that he got them believing that, and that's why we've played as well as we have."
When you hired Kubiak in 2006, is this the type of team that you envisioned him coaching?
"I would say yes, because Gary has always been a humble person. He doesn't have a giant ego. Everybody's got an ego in this game or you wouldn't be here; you wouldn't have any confidence if you didn't have an ego. But his is self-contained, and he doesn't display it. A lot of people think that he doesn't have enough passion, but I can assure you, I've been in the locker room with him and on the practice fields and watching him coach and watching him talk to players, he is very passionate about this game and about what he's doing, and the players know it. But he shows restraint to the public and he is always – he has this calming demeanor, and I think that helps keep the players' emotions under control, and it's easy for 'em to have their emotions run amuck. That can happen, and you see it from time to time. They feed off the coach, and if the coach gets all upset every time a penalty goes against you or you lose a player to injury, if they see him being dejected or disappointed, well, they become dejected, they become disappointed. You've just got to keep your head up, regardless of what happens, and set a good example for these players because they are watching you and you're going to set the tone for them."
How about defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the impact he has made since he arrived in January?
"I think Wade's been terrific. We thought he would be outstanding. I don't think any of us thought he'd get the kind of results he's gotten so quickly, because it's just been a complete flip from the bottom to the top in terms of the ranking of our defense. But in many ways, he's a lot like Gary. He has this calming effect on the players, but he comes across as one who has been there and done it, and the players don't question him. If he says, 'This is the way we're going to do it and this is the kind of result you're going to get,' that's what they expect. They go out and do it that way. And he tries to simplify things, and if players understand what they're doing, they play with confidence, and if they play with confidence, they play faster, and that's what we all want to see our players do is play faster. He was able to do that with our defense. Our defense just plays faster than they did last year. He's a good judge of talent and he's a good judge of what a player's strengths and weaknesses are, and he does a good job of putting them in a position to use their strengths and minimize their weaknesses."
You lived here during the 'Luv Ya Blue' years of the Houston Oilers in the late 1970s under head coach Bum Phillips, Wade's father. How special is that connection?
"It is amazing that now his son is here helping to build that same kind of a spirit. I think we have the opportunity to not just replicate that but exceed it. We just need to keep performing well, and this city will be proud of the Houston Texans."
Wide receiver Andre Johnson has been with the team since 2003, longer than any other player. How happy are you for him after all the work he has put in with the franchise, and how do you expect him to play in the playoffs?
"I'm really happy for Andre because he's been a great teammate for all of us, regardless as to what the outcome had been in that particular season. He's not a complainer. He goes out, he works hard and he sets a great example for the younger players. He's not a prima donna. He's like every player; they want the ball. Well, we want 'em to want the ball. If they don't want the ball, I don't want them. But he's a good teammate and he'll go out and work hard to do his job and support others, and if it calls for him to block, he'll go out and block. Everybody thinks the world of Andre. He's very quiet, and he leads by example rather than verbalizing. But the few times he has something to say, the players all listen because it's such a rare occasion. He's been a great leader and he's been deserving of the opportunity to play in the playoffs, so I think he'll be ready to play. He played some in our last game of the season and sort of got his legs back under him again because he'd been out for a while, so he should be ready to really go in our first playoff game."
You know how loud it was at Reliant Stadium the last couple of times the Texans played here. What kind of atmosphere do you expect for the first playoff game?
"I think it'll be like that same type of atmosphere, and that's really positive for the team. Fans don't realize how much that really helps the team. Not only will it make it more difficult for the opposing team coming in here to run their offense, but it also fires up our defense when they're on the field. It really makes a big difference, and our fans are really becoming more professional. They're understanding now more and more when it's time to be loud and when it's time to be quiet. If we're on offense, we don't need any noise. If we're on defense, let's turn it up and don't give 'em any opportunity for relaxation on their part. Let's just keep the pressure on."
What do you think this team is capable of in the playoffs?
"With all of these games, you need to play your best. If you're not at your best, if you're not playing with a high intensity and the other team is, there's a good chance you're going to lose, and it doesn't matter who you are. That's the key. I think in terms of talent, we're as talented as anyone. Now, we're missing some of our more talented players, but we've had some other young players step up and play very well. So the key is for us just to get that intensity level back up where it was before we won the division championship. I think there's just been a letdown since then. There was so much focus on getting to the playoffs that once we got to the playoffs, I think there was just a natural tendency on the part of everybody to let down a little bit. That's only natural. Now, what happened the last few games of the regular season doesn't matter. That's history. The question is whether we're ready to play in the playoffs, and if we're ready to go, then there's no reason why we can't go deep in the playoffs. It's basically a new season, but it's one and done. We're in the hunt, and that's the good news. Now, I'm excited to see how far we can go."