Charlie Pallilo: The joke that is the NFL preseason is under way

Deshaun Watson got in a few snaps in the opener. Jonathan Ferrey

The big joke that NFL preseason games are got under way for the Texans Thursday night in Kansas City. It was not exciting. Deshaun Watson handed off four times and threw one four yard completion.  J.J. Watt didn’t play. Neither did DeAndre Hopkins. Nor Benardrick McKinney. Nor Tyrann Mathieu. All of whom are fully healthy.

Brandon Weeden looked good! That’s a pretty good indicator of the meaning of preseason games. They just aren’t necessary. At all. A couple of intersquad scrimmages would suffice. Along with day in-day out practice performance, that would be sufficient to determine roster spots. Plenty of college teams jump right in with notable season openers, without any preseason games. Preseason games are not going to coalesce the massive question mark that is the Texans’ offensive line, or improve Bill O’Brien’s game and clock management.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has paid lip service to acknowledging that four preseason games is not something the fans want, and is something the NFL owners would look at. Yeah, they look and they laugh. 20 percent of an NFL season ticket is a ripoff for practice games that are un-needed, other than as cash cows lining the owners’ pockets. They generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The onus is on the owners, but the players are complicit in this too. They basically get 50 cents of every dollar generated.

Tough game for Verlander

So, after getting shelled then ejected Thursday, Justin Verlander has to wait at least one more start to earn his 200th Major League win. No reason to panic, but over his last 10 starts Verlander has an ERA of 4.03. The long ball has bitten him hard, 14 homers allowed over just 58 innings. Ken Giles might be thinking, “Geez, that’s a lot.”

For Verlander 200 career wins should be a major milepost on his path to Cooperstown and election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s not a lock just yet, but keeps making excellent progress and looks to be on the right side of the curve.

Only 111 pitchers have 200 wins. Historically however, 200 has not meant automatic Hall of Fame entry. Tommy John won 288 games (and had a surgery named after him!), he’s not in the Hall. Jim Kaat won 283 games (and 16 Gold Gloves), he’s not in the Hall. Andy Pettitte won 256 games. Pettitte goes on the ballot for the first time for the Class of 2019, he won’t be making it and not only because of his admitted dalliance with performance enhancing drugs. The only other active pitchers with more than 200 wins are Bartolo Colon (zero chance at the Hall) and C.C. Sabathia (an interesting candidate).

The way the game is played today though, going forward, 200 plus victories will make for a very strong candidate. Verlander is a good bet, especially since while he’s 35 years old, he is clearly not close to done. Verlander’s resume includes a Cy Young Award (and MVP the same season), two Cy Young runner-up finishes, and one third place finish. He’s obviously a solid Cy candidate this year.

If and when his time comes, Verlander will go into the Hall as a Detroit Tiger….unless he has something approaching Roger Clemens or Nolan Ryan-like longevity, and pitches the rest of his career as an Astro. Verlander does hope to pitch into his 40s.

If Verlander’s whole career had been with the Astros, he would hands down own the greatest Astros’ pitching career in franchise history (Roy Oswalt is that guy now). But, more than a decade of Verlander’s career was spent in the Motor City. At year’s end, it’ll be about a season and a quarter as an Astro. Even if this season ends with a second straight World Series title, Verlander will need much more Astro bulk achievement if his Hall plaque is to have an H on it.

Battling back

As the Astros welcome back Carlos Correa, the wait continues on Jose Altuve and George Springer. Collateral damage of Altuve’s first career disabled list stint, his streak of 200 hit seasons is  doomed to end at four. Altuve has 134 hits. IF he is back for the Colorado series starting Tuesday, Altuve will have 43 games in which to amass 66 hits. Coming off a gimpy knee, Altuve will not play every game the rest of the year after his return, so let’s say he plays 40 games. 66 hits in 40 games is pace that extrapolated over a full 162 game season would mean 267 hits. Even for Altuve that is a huge stretch.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Well, at least DeAndre Hopkins and Iggy Azalea can always savor their good times. 2. Can you stand the wait for Johnny Manziel’s 2nd CFL start?   3. Best ELO songs: Bronze-Sweet Talkin’ Woman  Silver-Livin’ Thing Gold-Evil Woman


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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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