Winter Olympics

Former Houston high school/Rice star McGuffie makes U.S. Olympic bobsled team

Sam McGuffie (back) will represent the United States in the Winter Olympics. Getty Images

Watching Sam McGuffie on the gridiron in high school was something special. He gave us more highlights during his collegiate football career at Rice and Michigan and added to that resume for a short time in the NFL.

He still loves the game. And with the announcement just a few days ago about the advent of the new XFL League, McGuffie, of course, could not ignore.

“They’re bringing the XFL back. I might have to check that out. I mean, I’d like to play. The back of my jersey, (football jersey), would say ‘Guff-Stuff.'" That led to a chuckle. But the truth of the matter is, McGuffie is such a tremendous athlete and wants to do all he can physically while he can. “I’ve got to use up this body before I get too old to do anything.”

But right now, winning gold is at the top of the list

McGuffie possesses rare skills and there are very few athletes like him. Those skills have translated to becoming an Olympian. As a result, Team USA announced that Houston’s Sam McGuffie has been selected to represent his country.

“I was really excited to make the National Team this year because I knew it was important.” That was McGuffie’s immediate response when asked exactly what he felt once he had been selected to represent the United States in the 2018 Winter Olympics on the bobsled team.

The Winter Olympics will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea beginning Feb. 9. McGuffie, along with his two teams will be there ready to make his country proud. He’s currently training in Calgary. He will be a member of the push crew and has also been selected as Codie Bascue’s brakeman in the two-man.  

“You actually have to make the National team to be considered for the Olympic team. So, just because you make the National team this year doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make the Olympic team. So, you got to make both. So, it was a good time to make it.”

Obviously, his family here in Houston is truly excited for him.

“They were just like, it’s pretty cool," he said. "You know, they never saw bobsled coming in my life. So, it’s kind of different.”

Team is always first

McGuffie is a super-modest, low-key personality. Very little about him, in terms of his responses regarding his accomplishments, has changed since his days at Rice University.

But make no mistake; Sam McGuffie is a World-Class athlete who is bubbling inside about being on the team and is as competitive and talented as any World-Class athlete you will find.

“I just want to represent well. Hopefully, just do my part, you know. Let Codie, (Codie Basque), guide us the rest of the way. It’s a partnership. It takes everyone to do well.”  

McGuffie says he excited about having two opportunities to win a medal. But to get there, he realizes the challenge of his job.

Challenging responsibility

“I’m the last guy. So, I pull the brakes.” There’s more to that responsibility that McGuffie explains. But, here’s what’s really challenging.

“I have to memorize the course blind. Everyone else kind of gets to sit up, just kind of crump, (fold), their heads down. I ride the whole way with my head between my legs. So, just to remember all the different tracks blind is kind of different.”

Along with Basque on the push-crew, McGuffie will work with Evan Weinstock of Las Vegas, Nevada and Steve Langton of Melrose, Massachusetts.

“We have to kind of work together a little bit now to kind of hone in our timing; like hitting the sled together at the same time. Because if you don’t, we push slow. It’s all about momentum.” Entering the sled at different times would amount to a slow time.

“PyeongChang is so short on the track, if you push fast, you get a chance to do well.” “It’s only 14 turns. Most tracks have more than 15-16 turns.”

McGuffie will compete in the two-man Feb. 18 and 19. He will compete in the four-man Feb. 24 and 25. McGuffie and the team will train in Calgary a few more days, head to San Francisco, and then fly to Seoul. The team will then drive three hours to PyeongChang.

Keeping an eye on Rice

While he’s obviously focused on winning medals for the U.S. Bobsled team, He still keeps his eye on Rice football. McGuffie talked about his former team and always thinks about his days at Rice. That comes with an unyielding respect and admiration for former Head football Coach David Bailiff. But he’s also looking forward to the future of the program.

“Shout-out to the new coach,” (Mike Bloomgren). I haven’t met him yet. But, I’m looking forward to seeing how they do.”

Almost time

Meanwhile, we’re keeping our eyes on McGuffie and what he has a chance to do during the Winter Olympics. The Opening Ceremony for the Winter Olympics is Feb. 9.

This is wishing Sam McGuffie and his teammates the very best.  

 

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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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