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Stars come out for festivities

1/27/2004

HOUSTON -- Some of the brightest stars in Houston sports
history turned out Monday night to mix and mingle in a
first-of-its-kind opening ceremony to kick off Super Bowl week.

Many of the luminaries said they had been looking forward to the
charity dinner for the same reason as the 5,000 paying customers
who spent $100 to $1,000 a ticket: to rub shoulders with the
honorees.

"I can't wait to see some of them," new Astros pitcher Roger Clemens said as he entered Reliant Arena with his family. "I've been fans of theirs, that's for sure. I've been watching quite a few of them for a long time."

Clemens was among a majority of the 41 honorees on the list to
attend the gathering, the brainchild of CBS sportscaster and former
University of Houston golfer Jim Nantz. Some were from the area
(Olympic gold medalist Leroy Burrell, George Foreman), others made
their mark in Houston (Bum Phillips, Cynthia Cooper); and still
others fit both categories (Nolan Ryan, Clyde Drexler).

Joining the festivities were former President George Bush, top
NFL brass, the owners and coaches of the Super Bowl teams and
musician Yanni, who provided the entertainment.

The real attractions for the stars, though, were the other stars
on the list that originally was supposed to be 38 but grew because
of ties among the local media voting.

"Houston is a city filled with incredible, phenomenal athletes,
and I'm just proud to be one of the 38," said Olympic gold medal
gymnast Mary Lou Retton, celebrating the 20th anniversary of her
triumph this year. "I'm proud to [have been] here since I was 14
years old."

Drexler, who starred in high school and college in his hometown
before helping the Rockets win a championship in the pros, said he
felt humbled.

"It's a tremendous honor because people recognize the fact that
you are from here," Drexler said. "I've always been extremely
Houston proud, and it's a significant honor. It also could mean
they ran out of guys and they needed a 38th."

If that's the case, it wasn't on account of Foreman, who put
Drexler at the top of the heap.

"I've been a fan of his for years," Foreman said. "There
couldn't be a list without Clyde Drexler. I'm looking forward to
running into all the guys. I can't wait to see who's here, sign
some autographs and get some autographs signed."

The celebrities got the red carpet treatment as they arrived at
the dolled-up rodeo arena next to Reliant Stadium. The highlight
was when the football that will be used at kickoff between the
Panthers and Patriots on Sunday was passed from honoree to honoree
down to Bush, who handed off to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in
a torch-like relay.

Tagliabue said it would be tough for future Super Bowl cities to
match Houston's star power for a similar event.

"I know Jim Nantz would love to think it will catch on, but
maybe the trick here is that it is so unique," Tagliabue said.
"Having a former president and having [41] of the greatest heroes
of sport is not something every community can duplicate."

Proceeds from the dinner were earmarked for two after-school centers for underprivileged children.