It was Saturday night before our third preseason game against New Orleans last summer and Hurricane Harvey was making its way to Houston. I was on the sidelines preparing for the game, but my heart was in Houston, as it was for many on our sidelines. The most recent report showed that we might be able to get back home, but there were many questions. So, I found our good friend Alicia Lauth, who takes such good care of us on flights to all of our away games, and asked her whether she thought we could get home that night.
"We're going home tonight, unless something goes sideways."
By halftime, things had unfortunately gone sideways.
We were diverted to Dallas immediately after the game and arrived somewhere around 2 or 3 am. Football was the last thing on anyone's mind. Players, coaches and staff would see each other on the elevator or in the lobby.
"Y'all okay? Family alright? Water get your house?"
We didn't have anyone but each other up there and with our loved ones suffering through it without us, it was a helpless feeling. Every morning, I'd wake up around 6 am, having gone to bed somewhere around 2 am, if not later. One morning I woke up and got on Twitter to see if Eric Berger, the Science Guy, who was my information lifeline through the entire ordeal, had posted any new information. A few tweets beyond his latest update, I saw J.J. Watt had tweeted a video.
I, obviously, immediately recognized the hotel because it was the same one I was in and it was about a minute or so long. He then said he wanted to do something to help Houston. He wanted to raise $200k and was putting up half of it. As a Houstonian for most of my life and a Texans employee, I knew I had to jump in. So, I hit the donate button...as did thousands of others. Some you may recognize.
The J.J. Watt Hurricane Relief efforts eventually rose to $37M in about three weeks or so. Watt consistently played down his efforts, stating that it was going to take billions to fully repair Houston, but it was a start. Heck yes, it was and an amazing one at that.
I remind all of you of this because Watt is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award on Saturday night at the NFL Honors in Minneapolis. Benjamin Watson (Ravens) and Greg Olsen (Panthers) are incredible men who have done amazing things for their communities but we're all a little biased toward one finalist and for good reason.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and I heard one of the guests saying that his foundation had raised $15M in 15 years or so. Now, that's amazing, selfless work to create opportunities through a charity/foundation. When I heard it, though, my first thought was man, J.J. did $37M in three weeks! Not to mention, the J.J. Watt Foundation has done amazing work in this community, and others, for years. His relief efforts just went to a whole new stratosphere.
I want any Texan up for an award to take home the trophy, but this one, well, this one I want just a little bit more. When things went sideways, #99 stepped up for all of you and all of us and that'll mean more than anything he ever does in his football career.