HOUSTON (AP) — When the Houston Texans take the field on Monday night against the Tennessee Titans in their first game since Robert “Bob” McNair died on Friday they’ll all carry a reminder of the team’s late owner and founder.
Affixed to the back of each player’s helmet as they try to set a franchise record with their eighth straight win will be a small decal in the shape of a football with simple white block letters bearing his initials of “RCM.”
One of the NFL’s most influential owners, McNair had battled both leukemia and squamous cell carcinoma in recent years before dying in Houston on Friday. He was 81. The team did not release a cause of death, but said he died peacefully with wife Janice and his family by his side.
While McNair hadn’t been around the team much this season as his health declined, he’d been a near constant presence in years past. He was often seen sitting on a golf cart watching his team practice or standing on the field before games.
On Saturday before the Texans started practice, coach Bill O’Brien discussed McNair’s fight with cancer and his passing with the team.
“He loved the Houston Texans and he loved coming out here to practice and he loved … the veterans will tell you, the guys that have been here a long time, sitting in his cart with (son) Cal (McNair) watching practice, driving around to the different drills,” O’Brien said on a video provided by the team.
“And I just think on a day like this before we hit the field — this is his field — (we’ll) have a little moment of silence and then we break and we’ll go to practice. Because at the end of the day, guys, Bob McNair wanted us to win.”
After games McNair, who dressed impeccably in a suit to watch the team play, would often emerge from the locker room to address the assembled media, beaming and raving about the Texans after big wins or lamenting that they had to do better after tough losses.
This team wasn’t merely a business to McNair, he cared deeply about the Texans and talked often about his desire to bring Houston its first Super Bowl title.
The Houston Oilers never won one before skipping town for Tennessee after the 1996 season. It was then that McNair made it his mission to return the NFL to the city. He formed Houston NFL Holdings in 1998, and on Oct. 6, 1999, he was awarded the 32nd NFL franchise. The Texans began play in 2002.
And whether near or afar McNair had been a presence in all 266 games the Texans had played since their inaugural game on Sept. 8, 2002, when they beat the Cowboys 19-10.
Quarterback David Carr, whom the Texans chose with their first draft pick and who led them to that win, recounted McNair’s kindness and knows better than most just how desperately he wanted to win a Super Bowl.
“That was really the only regret after I left Houston was that I wasn’t able to bring a championship home for him and Janice because they definitely deserved it just because of what all they did to bring football back to Houston,” Carr said on NFL Network.
Now the Texans will continue that quest without McNair, under the guidance of Cal McNair, who has been serving as the team’s chairman and chief operating officer and will take over in the wake of his father’s death.
The last full season McNair would see was a disappointing one, with the Texans finishing 4-12 in a year where J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson both sustained season-ending injuries.
Early on it looked as if this would be another lost season for the Texans after they dropped their first three games.
But instead of crumbling after that terrible start, Houston has bounced back to become the first team since the 1925 New York Giants to win seven straight after opening a season 0-3.
Their next challenge will be facing a Tennessee team that is expected to get quarterback Marcus Mariota back after he missed the second half of the Titans’ 38-10 loss to Indianapolis after suffering a stinger.
The AFC South-leading Texans lost to the Titans 20-17 in Week 2 in a game that Mariota missed because of an elbow injury.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who worked as an assistant in Houston for the past four years, thinks that his team is better than it was in that game, but knows that the Texans have improved, too.
“Other than last week, we probably were playing better defense than the first time, but you never know,” he said.
“The great thing about this league is you have to prove it every week. Every day that you come to work, as a player in this league and as a coach in this league, you have to prove your value to the team. We have to get to work and be able to practice and prepare against a good football team.”