When Houston Texans president Jamey Rootes gets on the phone after 5 p.m. on a Friday of a home game weekend — a home game that will go a long way toward determining if the Texans remain in the heart of the playoff chase or not — to talk about Monday night's Taste of the Texans, you get a sense of just how important the event is to him and the organization.
It's not like Rootes is going to come out and place the fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank and The Methodist Hospital System, which brings the Texans together with many of Houston's best restaurants, above the need to get a win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. But the longer the conversation goes, the more it's apparent he looks at them as almost on the same plane.
"We have three objectives as an organization," Rootes says. "To win championships. To create memorable experiences for our fans. And to do great things for Houston.
"Taste of the Texans directly plays into two of those goals. It's an opportunity to engage our fans while having an impact in the community."
Taste of the Texans is something of a new twist on the league's Taste of the NFL, which has been raising money for food banks since 1992. The Texans took that basic concept and magnified it with the first Taste of the Texans last year. Rootes might say that they Texans-sized it — if he were more cheesy.
"We want to be the best at everything we do," Rootes says. "We want to have the best gameday experience in the NFL. We want to have the best tailgating, which we've been working towards honing. We want to have the best ..."
Rootes could go on and on about the Texans' vision of excellence. The team being 4-3 at the moment clearly hasn't given him pause about the overall track and momentum of the franchise. The interview reminded me of ones I had with New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman in the heart of the pinstripes' late 1990s and early 2000s World Series sprees.
No one can say the on-field results will ever be anything close (one playoff appearance would be nice first). But the steady, unshakeable focus is clearly there.
Including when it comes to the Taste of the Texans. Rootes credits Ruggles chef Bruce Molzan and RDG's Robert Del Grande with helping to shape the concept.
"They understood from the beginning that we wanted to do something significant, something special," Rootes says.
That's turned into a high-end event. More than 30 restaurants are involved (from Catalan to Mockingbird Bistro to Sprinkles Cupcakes to Yelapa Playa Mexicana) with individual tickets running $250 and packages starting at $1,000 for a Monday night at Reliant Stadium's Verizon Wireless West Club. Rootes is clearly excited that players have caught onto the significance of the night and its mission as well.
"We've got a large contingent of players this year," Rootes says. "Not only is every rookie going to be there, but there will be significant surprises. We've also got our Lady Texans (wives, mothers and significant others of coaches and players) involved. We're going to have 12 to 18 Lady Texans join us."
And all those celebrity chefs.
It's one thing to promise that fans will be mingling with Texans players, cheerleaders and staff while munching on some of the Bayou City's finest food — and another to produce an experience that measures up to that and goes beyond.
"You can say you're going to deliver all you want, but the first time people are going to skeptical until you actually do it, until they see it," Rootes says. "That's what we dealt with last year. But we delivered and we have all those photos and quotes and testimonials to build on."
Rootes expects the Taste of the Texans to raise a charitable contribution well into the six figures. Which plays right into the Texans' organizational mantra.
"We don't just want to be an NFL team that plays in Houston," Rootes says. "We want to be a part of the city."
If several hundred Texans fans, Food Bank backers and Methodist Hospital devotees are wowed along the way, so much the better. (See goal two.)
"There are going to be 750 Houstonians who are thrilled on Monday night," Rootes says. "They're going to remember the experience."
No matter what happens on Sunday afternoon. For an organization that wants to see beyond the field, it's the only way.
It sounds a little hokey, a tad contrived. Until you hear the passion coming out late on a Friday afternoon.