The massive ballroom of the new Marriott Marquis Hotel was packed with Houston notables and 51 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who easily stood out in their spiffy gold jackets. But the real stars at the Luminaries of the Game gala Wednesday night were Houston Texans owner Bob McNair and his wife Janice.
The couple were honored by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and a host of superstars, including video tributes from Barbara Bush, Jim Nantz and Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, for their philanthropic work and their devotion to Houston. McNair is credited for convincing his fellow owners to bring the Super Bowl to Houston twice — in 2004 and again this year.
And they were surprised when Houston Texans players Wade Smith and Andre Johnson wheeled out a replica of a statue of Bob McNair that be erected in front of NRG Stadium. The larger-than-life statue will tower 8 feet high and weigh 1,000 pounds.
"It makes me look better than I am," McNair quipped.
The evening kicked off when Luminaries co-chairs Lynn Wyatt and James A. Baker III welcomed the crowd. Wyatt noted that $1 million was raised at the gala, which was presented by the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, to support Touchdown Houston, a charitable program that will receive a minimum of $4 million to support education, health and wellness, and community enhancement in the greater Houston area.
"We're going to rename this room 'the million dollar room,' " Wyatt joked.
Baker, a native Houstonian like Wyatt, praised the city's can-do spirit. "Sometimes we do make mosquitos the size of B-52 bombers, but this is a damn good place to live," Baker said.
The highlight of the evening came when more than 50 of the 300 football stars that are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame were introduced onstage in groups of 10 or so, amid stirring Star Wars-like music, cascades of fog and prolonged standing ovations. Among those receiving big applause were former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Charles Haley, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Steve Largent, Cincinnati Bengals tackle Anthony Munoz, Houston Oilers defensive end Elvin Bethea, and Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singleton.
But the player receiving the biggest applause was legendary Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell, who remained at his table during the presentation, but later appeared onstage for a brief Q&A with ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman.
"Thank you very much for rooting like you did for the Houston Oilers," Campbell told the adoring crowd.