Three security officials in suits hold an elevator at the Hilton Americas-Houston, motioning for any curious bystanders to walk on by.
Has royalty arrived in Houston? Or perhaps Madonna in early for her Wednesday night show at the Toyota Center?
Close enough. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is near the building and the guards are waiting to whisk him up to a fourth floor ballroom. When you run North America's sports juggernaut — the TV monster that dominates the overall ratings week after week after week — you pretty much are American royalty (no matter how low your own approval ratings may be in the bounty haven of New Orleans).
"Houston provided probably the best experience I had at a football game last year," Goodell says. "And I go to a lot of football games."
It's clearly a big deal to Houston Texans owner Bob McNair that Goodell's made a special trip to Houston to address a Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) luncheon forum with the city a last two finalist to host the 2017 Super Bowl. "This is really the first time (Goodell's) come here without having some special project to do," McNair says.
McNair introduces Goodell at the event, but it's the commissioner who throws the biggest bouquet.
"Houston provided probably the best experience I had at a football game last year — as a fan," Goodell says. "And I go to a lot of football games. I probably went to 30 football games last year."
Goodell is referencing the first playoff game in Texans' franchise history — that 31-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals when J.J. Watt stole a pass out of the air and pretty much anyone who was there raved about how incredibly loud it was for three-plus hours.
It ended up being the game that Goodell held up to other league owners as the example of what the NFL in-stadium experience needs to be like.
"I picked out the Houston Texans," Goodell tells the high-powered lunch crowd of about 250 — a crowd that includes Houston Astros president George Postolos, Texans president Jamey Rootes, Texans general manager Rick Smith and Mayor Annise Parker. "The way you participated, the singing, everything going on (with) the scoreboard . . ."
Improving the actual stadium fan experience is a major priority of Goodell's at the moment. The ultra-TV-friendly NFL is determined to fight any perception that you're better off just staying at home and watching your local game on TV. Rootes' work to make Texans gamedays complete almost social events, rather than just games, is an approach the NFL loves.
So just pencil in Super Bowl LI for H-Town in February 2017 . . .
"I was, quite frankly, a little embarrassed by that (Pro Bowl) game last year. If we can't do it better, we should cancel it."
Of course, this being the NFL, it doesn't quite work that way. Super Bowls are often awarded to new stadiums (this is why San Francisco is sure to host one soon in its new place . . . in Santa Clara).
"The stadium is critical to each Super Bowl venue," Goodell says. "That's our stage. . . By the time Super Bowl 51 gets here, Reliant Stadium will be 15 years old."
In other words, look into renovating. McNair's quietly been pushing for a Reliant revamp for years, urging Harris County officials to put money into keeping the stadium up to date.
"The scoreboard needs to be replaced," McNair tells a few reporters after the luncheon forum. "We're the last team in the league without a digital scoreboard."
That type of omission isn't likely to fly with Goodell. He's obsessed with the NFL having the best things, the way Donald Trump is obsessed with President Obama. That comes through when the commissioner talks about the NFL's Pro Bowl and its life-support status.
"Whenever the NFL does something, it needs to be at the highest quality," Goodell says. "I was, quite frankly, a little embarrassed by that (Pro Bowl) game last year.
"If we can't do it better, we should cancel it."
A Houston Backer?
When Goodell's asked which team he roots for (the Texans cheerleaders went around collecting questions from the crowd before his GHP talk), he almost chuckles. "In the NFL office, we have a little saying, 'Whoever is behind in a game is who we root for,' " he says. "And we always root for the officials."
Still McNair has a pretty good idea that the commissioner is pulling for H-Town in at least one way. Whether it's in 2017 or some other future year.
"He thinks Houston should have another Super Bowl," McNair says. "Of course, it's up to the owners' vote."
McNair brings up Discovery Green (which wasn't around when Houston last hosted the Super Bowl in 2004) as one of the pluses of the new bid. And Doug Hall, who served as executive director of game, facility and local organizing committee management for a 2011 Final Four that utilized the park for major concerts during the event, drawing NCAA raves, is in the audience for Goodell's Houston appearance.
Before long, Goodell is leaving with a No. 51 Texans jersey with his name on the back (a gift from McNair that the commish could never wear in public), getting ushered back into an elevator. He won't be seeing the sights.