Houston Texans Owner Bob McNair Dead At 80

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair smiling in white suit and red tie.
Bob Levey / Getty Images

The Houston Texans franchise, its players, and fans are mourning the loss of team owner, senior chairman, and CEO, Robert C. McNair. The NFL broke news of McNair’s passing via NFL.com and across its social media platforms just before 7 p.m. on Friday evening, November 23. He was only weeks away from celebrating his 81st birthday.

McNair made his mark in Texas football when, in 1999, he restored the sport at the professional level for a city that had lost its franchise when the Oilers moved from Houston to Tennessee and became the Titans in 1996. McNair financed the building of the expansion team Texans from scratch with $700 million of the $1.5 billion he made off of the sale of his Cogen Technologies energy corporation to Enron. It was a dollar amount that at the time far exceeded the $140 million that Jacksonville and Carolina each paid to create the Jaguars and Panthers just six years earlier. Before long, the investment proved to be a good one, as the franchise now holds a projected value of $2.8 billion.

As ESPN noted in its coverage of McNair’s passing, the Texans have been effective in establishing a relatively high profile in the NFL in spite of the team’s lack of championship pedigree. Since the inaugural Texans team took the field in 2002, the franchise has won four division titles, but have never made it very far in the post season, with their only Super Bowl association coming when NRG Stadium hosted the big game in 2004 and 2017. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the confidence of the organization and community thanks to the building of an elite defense around J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, a gem of a wideout in DeAndre Hopkins, and the drafting of phenom Deshaun Watson at quarterback.

In 2015, McNair was forced to rescind a $10,000 contribution he made to an anti-LGBT organization that was organizing a push to prevent the passage of an ordinance to fight discrimination against locals who identify as gay and transgender, according to the Washington Post. Then there was the controversy he stirred when during last year’s fall league meeting, he reacted to national anthem protests by infamously stating, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

For a brief time, a buzz had gone around about the possibility that McNair might take the route Jerry Richardson did when he put the Panthers up for sale while fighting an impending sexual misconduct scandal. Instead, McNair issued an apology, then seemingly wavered by insisting that the remarks were taken out of context. All in all, there were reports of drama working itself out in the team locker room, but enough players and organizational figures stuck by McNair’s side that the controversy eventually blew over. Watt and coach head coach Bill O’Brien are among the individuals who have paid tribute to McNair on social media since word was released about his death.

In 2014, the Houston Chronicle reported on McNair overcoming 10 months of cancer treatment. At the time he spoke optimistically about having successfully fought skin cancer for 20 years before being faced with a chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) diagnosis. Unfortunately, McNair continued to deal with his illnesses going in and out of remission until he reportedly passed with family at his beside in Houston. He leaves behind his wife, Janice, daughters, Ruth and Melissa, sons Cal and Cary, 15 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.