Jamey Rootes, the president and general manager of the Columbus Crew for its MLS launch, died at the age of 56 on Sunday.
Rootes, a starting midfielder on Clemson’s 1987 national championship team, worked with Crew owner Lamar Hunt on building MLS's first soccer-specific stadium, which opened in 1999.
He moved to the NFL Houston Texans, where he worked for 21 years and served as president until his departure in 2021. He briefly returned to soccer in 2021 as CEO of the Houston Dynamo and Dash.
His wife, Melissa, wrote on Facebook:
Rootes, who was also an assistant coach at Indiana, got involved in MLS after working on the 1994 World Cup, like so many other executives early in its existence.
"I worked at the World Cup venue in Chicago and I was a field manager," he said. "I was in the corner, and the first goal was scored [by Jurgen Klinsmann for Germany against Bolivia] and it was just electric, and crazy. I saw the full potential of what the game could be here in the United States for the first time, so that was a very memorable moment."
Rootes was the 1996 MLS Executive of the Year and worked on getting MLS's first soccer-specific stadium off the ground in Columbus.
Rootes tells one of the most famous stories in MLS's history, about the night Hunt was turned down by the city of Dublin in his bid to build a soccer stadium in the Columbus suburb. (It was actually the second time a Crew stadium project collapsed.)
Before Rootes dropped Hunt off at the airport for his return trip to his home in Dallas, they stopped at a local McDonald's to get something to eat. Rootes figured the Crew's future in Columbus was now dead without a long-term home. After they ordered their food, he went to get some condiments and returned to find Hunt hovering over a map of Columbus he had spread out on their table.
What was he doing? Hunt replied, "Oh, I'm just trying to figure out where else we can build this soccer stadium."
A Columbus soccer stadium opened in 1999, and a second soccer stadium, this time in downtown Columbus, opened in 2021.
Rootes left the Crew in 2000 to join the NFL's Texans for whom he worked for more than two decades. Soccer remained close to his heart, though. Rootes founded Lone Star Sports and Entertainment in 2003 and it promoted many soccer events in Houston (Gold Cup, Copa America Centenario, MLS all-stars vs. Manchester United, U.S. national team friendlies, even a Mexico World Cup qualifying match).
That success was a big factor in FIFA's decision to name Houston one of the U.S. host cities for the 2026 World Cup.
Bummer .. You just Never Know ... Hug your Loved Ones... RIP