STAND UP AND SHOUT

The Summit called, and it's not sure Toyota Center fans deserve a championship

The Toyota Center crowd needs to step up. Tim Warner/Getty Images

Fans of the Upper Bowl and those who would die to even get that close, disregard this message. It's not for you. Although, you may want to stick around and second the emotion. 

"This place is rockin'!" -- When's the last time you heard a broadcaster paint such a glowing picture of Toyota Center? Go turn on Game 5 of the '94 series against the Jazz [https://youtu.be/Xgsz28093cI] and ask yourself when was the last time the privileged few of the 100 Sections participated in something that could pass for that kind of pandemonium? Sure, there have been isolated incidents, momentary pockets of pride. Sadly that's about as good as it gets because the crowd at Polk and La Branch has grown a reputation for only one thing and it ain't passionate support.

I was once lucky enough to exist inside one of those aforementioned pockets: The 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Rockets v Super Lakers, Game 3. The only playoff game of any sort that I've ever attended... My friends and I were so proud to be a part of the Friday night crowd that told Kobe and everyone watching at home that, "No means no." We arrived to our 400 Section seats before they even turned on music in the arena. One friend ate an entire meal with only a soy sauce packet for a utensil because he'd forgot to grab a proper one and was unwilling to miss any of the action. This is what life up top looks like. It's up there that we ran into one of The Summit's salty old veterans. This was an old man decked out in all of the glory day gear, who came with his back-to-back newspapers and his old school arena signs. His wife's face, even prior to tip off, wore an apology for the unbridled Rocket fire that would soon emanate directly from the depths of her husband's soul. That man was a human air horn all night. We shook his hand after the game.

Later that weekend, the Rockets lost a Sunday afternoon Game 4 but the home crowd showed Steve Francis so much love that in one particularly climactic moment he pulled his jersey to the side to show them they had this heart... There was Tracy's thirteen in thirty-three. The twenty-two game win streak. Headband of Brothers. Sure, we've had our collective moments together, times it was easy to forget that most often the crowd we let national television audiences see is an outright embarrassment.

Unfortunately those few proud moments are what our boy, Big Data would call statistical outliers. They've got nothing on those crowds at The Summit. Those crowds didn't need a demonic robot piped through the public address system to tell them it was time to call for defense. They didn't need anyone to tell them to stand up and cheer their hearts out for some of the greatest to ever grace the game. Those fans had no guarantees. They didn't know we could win it all until we did, and then they didn't know if it could ever be that good again. Yet they all made The Summit -- they all made Houston, a place that opposing teams dreaded.

When the Astros won their title, they did it on the backs of the fans down at Minute Maid. The opposition was admittedly intimidated by their deafening noise. They may not always represent during the regular season, but when the bright lights of the post season warm up, everyone down at the Juice Box takes their seat and they aren't afraid to stand on top of it either. Hell, even the notoriously tardy tailgaters of NRG know what to do during the playoffs.

The other day, a few hours before the Rockets would ultimately close out the quarterfinals and about thirty minutes before I was supposed to be at work, I got a call offering me a free ticket to the game. Much to my dismay, I was unable to receive the night off or find someone to take my place. If not for desperately needing the couple days income I'd have to miss out on to replace that job, you folks probably would've heard my loud ass on the telecast. These were openly described nose-bleed seats and a job I very clearly needed to retain, and yet I still almost quit so I could attend. Imagine my ensuing horror as I would go on to steal glimpses of tumbleweeds blowing through the first-half stands for all the world to see. I'm out here making difficult life decisions not to be there, meanwhile there were hundreds of people lucky enough to have the privilege and they're nowhere to be found? Let's figure this out. Where are these people and how can we get them into their seats?

There's a theory floating around out there that blames the Lower Bowl's leadership vacuum on corporate season ticket holders. Another blames an irrational fear of downtown. Let's just skip the agoraphobia and address the corporate sellout theory. First of all, what exactly does an attachment to a corporate entity mean in regard to one's ability to support a generationally talented team? It doesn't matter anyway because companies proudly doing business in Houston shouldn't be willing to participate in making it look so bad. Giving your tickets away? Fine, but you have an obligation to see that tickets as important as these are used properly.

We've got the Billionaire Buyer sitting courtside and this isn't the first year he's been down there setting an example for the rest of the city's financially phlegmatic. I commend his fandom. But Fertita and a Ferris wheel full of Red Rowdies can't fix this issue by example alone. This requires hard choices and bold innovation.

Let's bust up these corporations, I mean this corporate theory -- right now. There's no big mystery. It doesn't matter how their tickets were obtained, these people are inevitably out in one of the many swanky lounges or bars ringing the concourse and they're getting lit. Absolutely smashed. Houston, we have an alcohol problem. Accept it and adapt to it. Either eliminate the lounges or go to the elaborately ridiculous lengths of creating a stand-in system for their patrons. This is where we are now. Next season, I vote for the lounges to be replaced with ticketed-seat restaurants. I think the new owner knows a guy who knows a guy with a food connect... I mean, if anyone could revolutionize the way fans receive alcohol at their seat, it's our boy Tilman. In the meantime, shutter the lounges during the game and beef up the roving beer vendor rotation.

The only other culprit we can realistically blame is entitlement. Like these "fans" just don't have it in them to show their support... I lost my voice cheering for an encore at a concert the other night. For one song, from a band that should go on to play it many times, for many years. These Rockets are literally the rarest team the sport has ever seen from an offensive standpoint -- There are two all-out legends running arguably the greatest backcourt of all-time and a burgeoning superstar in his own right in Clint Capela. Not to mention hometown hero, Gerald "Sagemont" Green or the pack of junkyard dogs we've got in Luc, Tuck, and Trev. I'm forgetting the lightning in a bottle that is reigning Sixth Man of The Year, Eric Gordon and a coach who has legitimately revolutionized the game itself. You're telling me there are people in this city who are unimpressed with that? And we're allowing them to represent us? Now? With everything on the line? It's inexcusable.

Maybe it's the organization's fault for failing to better incorporate your chemical dependency into their game presentation. Hey, I love a good chemical. I get it.

Maybe it's James Harden's fault for accessorizing so well that all of you treat him as your own personal accessory -- to be picked up or put down at your Instagram leisure.

Maybe it's Chris Paul's fault for throwing so many ball fakes, you didn't think the game had really started.

Or maybe, just maybe, all this rests on your shoulders.

This is H-Town, where I'm not sure if you've heard, but we Hold It Down. This is a city where men and women who've walked in space walk our streets. This is the city they call when the best minds on Earth are needed to solve a problem. Y'all, we don't even have to bother them with this one. This is easy.

Space City, stand up! Show this team the adoration and respect they deserve. Get loud and represent all of us to the best of your ability. We are a city of the future. You have to decide if we face a future rife with spoiled indifference -- Or is it a future that rewards and even sustains excellence? You, the social elite of the Lower Bowl. You movers, you shakers. You trendsetters. You decide. Tonight at 7.

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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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