The Pallilog

Pallilo's view: A look at a great time in Houston sports

Charlie Pallilo makes his debut on SportsMap. Charlie Pallilo

Hi. Welcome to my weekly ravings, rantings, rankings, and anything else that comes with my modest SportsMap.com contribution. What a great time to start!

Astros vs. Yankees for the American League pennant. The Yankees with 27 World Series championships to their name, the Astros with zero World Series wins to theirs. But as in the fine print at the bottom of all those brokerage ads: past performance is no guarantee of future results. It’s basically a coin flip of a matchup. Going into the series it feels like it’s the Astros’ time. But those rooting for the Yankees very reasonably feel the same way about their chances. The Astros clearly have the better top-to-bottom batting order, and outscored the Bronx Bombers by 38 runs this season. On the other hand, Yankee pitching gave up 40 fewer runs. The Astros are rightful slight favorites. They have the homefield advantage, and of more significance, Yankee-dominator Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander rested in full to pitch the first two games. The Yankees have the better bullpen.

The Most Valuable Player Award is 100% based upon the regular season so what Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge do over the course of the ALCS does not provide any “I told you so” material for an argument for either. But…against the Red Sox Altuve batted .533 including his epic three homer game one. Against the Indians Judge went 1-for-20 with a whopping 16 strikeouts.

Major League Baseball can’t call it the Final Four (the non-profit institution that is all about the student-athletes prohibits it) but I can. Playoff baseball results are almost random, so we can’t say having gotten to the League Championship Series means the Astros have started a multi-year residency as one of the final four teams alive chasing World Series rings, but as a franchise they sure are set up that way. The Astros wrecked interest in baseball here for a while with a half decade of largely deliberate ineptitude, but man has Jeff Luhnow’s master rebuild plan worked. Alas, the healing with the fan base is not complete. The current ballclub deserves better than a 15th (out of 30) place finish in MLB attendance and 17th in local TV ratings. Making the World Series would help significantly. Winning the World Series…

Texans-Browns Sunday doesn’t exactly induce goosebumps. The Browns (rhymes with Clowns) have lost 23 of their last 24 regular season games. Being so relentlessly awful in the NFL is almost impressive. On the Texans’ side at least DeShaun Watson now makes them a worthwhile watch game in game out. I still can’t get over how after an entire offseason and preseason of evaluation, Head Coach Bill O’Brien drew a definitive conclusion that Tom Savage was the guy to open the season as the starting QB. It only took O’Brien one pathetically humiliating half against Jacksonville to smarten up, but still. Watson is the yin to the sucky yang of J.J. Watt being done, likely for good as an NFL superduperstar.

Oh by the way, the Rockets start their season Tuesday night at Golden State. The Rockets are not in the Warriors’ class, which gives them something in common with the other 28 NBA teams who don’t call Oakland home. The Rockets being in the building opening night as the champions unfurl their banner and get their rings will drive home that point. But there is no team other than Golden State that starts this season with a team clearly better than Mike D’Antoni’s squad. The addition of Chris Paul alongside James Harden gives the Rockets as talented a backcourt as there has been in the history of the league. Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, Michael Jordan and Anybody, Paul and Harden as talents can run with anybody historically. But there are levels within greatness, and the Paul/Harden duo has work to do. It’s a team game but that Chris Paul has yet to play in a Conference Final game is a serious stain on his resume. Harden has had colossal meltdowns in Rockets’ season ending losses two of the last three postseasons. Greatness usually figures it out. If Paul and Harden will be a truly great backcourt they will over time strike a balance between their ball-dominant ways. It probably won’t make them good enough to get past Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but seven-plus months of highly entertaining and very successful basketball should be a ton of hoop fun.

Buzzer beaters:

1. Having his 6 game suspension reinstated serves the immature to socially deviant Ezekiel Elliott right.

2. If Tilman Fertitta gets Houston an NHL team I will eat in one of his restaurants weekly for a year

3. Best pie brand non-specific: Gold-coconut custard, Silver-key lime, Bronze-shoofly.

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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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