Culture / Sporting Life

Bill O’Brien’s Sons Make Sure Houston, Heroes Get National TV Love in NFL Draft’s Sweetest Moment

Reminding Everyone This is Not Just Sports as Usual

BY // 04.26.20

The first ever virtual NFL Draft is destined to be remembered for a number of things. Kliff Kingsbury’s sweet Paradise Valley pad. Jerry Jones floating yacht lair (presumably). Bill Belichick’s kitchen — and his Alaskan Klee Kai dog named Nike. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s seemingly epic struggle to stay up (and alert) past 10 pm on a Friday night.

It will also live on in a Dallas Cowboys draft class that started with the absolute steal of big playmaking wideout CeeDee Lamb, included a rare trade with the seemingly befuddled Philadelphia Eagles and ended with the kind of grades that will get you into Harvard. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans did all right player wise, but did not walk away with anything that will make anyone but the most fierce team propagandists forget the loss of DeAndre Hopkins and D.J. Reader.

Still the sweetest moments of this virtual NFL Draft came in the appearances of the kids of general managers and coaches involved in the talent acquisition bonanza. Most of the kids wore team clothes, hats and the like. Bengals director of personnel Duke Tobin’s family waited for the picks in enough official NFL merchandise to be featured in a team shop catalogue (though Tobin’s oldest son wearing a Yankees hat with his Bengals gear was amusing).

Texans coach/general manager Bill O’Brien’s kids went a little different route with their attire. They made things a little more meaningful — and represented both the frontline heroes fighting the coronavirus pandemic and Houston.

O’Brien’s oldest son — 17-year-old Jack — had a handmade sign reading, “Thank You Frontline Heroes” with hearts all around it on his chest. Jack suffers from lisssencephaly, a rare neurological disorder that causes seizures and cognitive developmental issues. Jack’s brother, 14-year-old Michael, wore a red St. John’s Baseball T-shirt. (Of course, St. John’s School is the vaunted Houston private school.)

Just like that, Jack and Michael O’Brien made sure the real heroes of the coronavirus fight and Houston received some national TV love. It is much more meaningful than just another team logo shirt would have been.

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Leave it to the kids to remind everyone that there are much more important things than the ratings gold return of live sports programming.

There were a number of touching moments in this virtual NFL Draft. But none topped what Jack and Michael O’Brien pulled off. It is easy to see why Bill O’Brien and his wife Colleen O’Brien would be proud of them.

“That was cool,” O’Brien told reporters when asked about having his sons with him for the draft. “I saw last night where a lot of the guys’ — coaches and GMs — families were represented on the telecast. Colleen and I felt like that was a good way to really thank the health care workers and the frontline medical people that are dealing with the coronavirus, which is. . . football is so secondary to what’s going on in the world right now.

“So we wheeled him (Jack) out here and he woke up, which was cool, and Michael loves it. Michael has been in here the whole time listening to all these discussions. Jack is doing great. Jack’s day-to-day, every day is a struggle, but he’s hanging in there.”

You don’t have to like the moves the Texans made this offseason. Almost no one does. You don’t have to see any logic in O’Brien’s seeming attempt to build depth around one supernova of a star (quarterback Deshaun Watson). The scheme’s more convoluted than the plot of a Netflix action movie.

But there is little doubt that the Texans have largely done everything right from a human standpoint this anything but traditional offseason.

Texans owner Janice McNair donated $100,000 to the NFL Draft-A-Thon for coronavirus relief in Texans employees’ name. This after she earlier gave $500,000 to the Houston Food Bank, $50,000 to the YMCA of Greater Houston and $50,000 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston.

And presented with sports’ biggest stage since the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down, Jack and Michael O’Brien made sure the global crisis’ true heroes and Houston both got a national TV shoutout.

That’s pretty special — and anything but just sports as usual.

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