It's hard to think about my tenure with the Houston Texans without thinking of J.J. Watt's greatest moments. I started down on the sideline in 2014, the year Watt went to a completely different level on the field. Only a week or two ago, I watched a Baldy Breakdown (Brian Baldinger from NFL Films) on YouTube from J.J.'s performance against the Buffalo Bills from that 2014 season. It was such an incredible year to watch from down on my spot on the sidelines.
There was the day in Cleveland when he had a touchdown reception, five tackles, one sack, three tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Oh, and he also had two 15-yard roughing the punter penalties. After the second penalty, I don't think I ever laughed so hard on the sideline as I saw J.J. walk back over to the sideline and he stood about ten yards away from Head Coach Bill O'Brien. The coach knew he couldn't really get mad at J.J. but he was steaming. J.J. was upset himself but didn't want to get any closer because he knew Coach was mad. About ten seconds later, O'Brien just looked down and waved him back into the game, which of course Watt dominated.
He won his second Defensive Player of the Year Award that year and should've been MVP, no offense A Rod. The following year he won the DPOY again but that wasn't even what I remembered most about him that season. We had a Week Six trip to Jacksonville, sitting at 1-4. The Colts had just beaten us (as Marc would say the Hasselbeck-in-a-Diaper game) on a Thursday night and the trip to Jacksonville was always tricky. Sitting on the team plane waiting to take off, we got a notice that J.J. was questionable for the game due to illness. We all just started looking at one another and couldn't even fathom going 1-5. A few minutes later he walked on the plane looking not so good. He stayed in his room the entire day and night until it was time to go win. Then, he played 79 of 81 plays in 75 degree heat in mid-October in a 31-20 win. On the final defensive play of the day, A.J. Bouye picked off a pass to end the game, essentially. J.J. walked over to the sideline right near me and I was excited as always "YEAH, GREAT JO…" and he bent over and puked right in front of me.
The great plays and the tremendous on-field moments come flooding back on this day, but what separated J.J. from other people, not just great athletes, was his commitment to people. I swore I wouldn't tell this story until he retired or left Houston, so here goes from back in early 2016, I believe. Many people know my son Jack has high functioning autism and he struggles with seemingly simple tasks. Writing is actually painful for him. He also struggled tying his shoes. So, he wore Crocs everywhere. Every single day. Unfortunately, the Crocs were wreaking havoc on his back as he got older, taller and bigger. So, one day in the spring, Jack and I hopped in the car for a trip to Academy to see if there was ANYTHING at all that would work for him. We walked back to the athletic shoes and from a distance, I could see J.J.'s face on a Reebok billboard with a shoe underneath it. As I got closer, I saw a red, white and blue shoe...that was a slip on without laces. I called Jack over and he tried it on. It fit perfectly and I almost cried on the spot! Jack said to me "can you believe it, Dad, J.J's shoe?" I was like I've got to tell J.J; he'll love to hear this one. It was during the offseason so J.J. was in Wisconsin but I shared the story with VP of PR Amy Palcic to share with J.J. as just a cute story he might appreciate. About a week later, I got a call from Amy that there was a box in her office...for my son. I walked down and there was a box from Reebok with similar styled lace less shoes and a note that said "We hear you're a fan of our shoes and we're a fan of yours." I tried to suppress tears, but it was hard. No one had ever done anything for Jack like that. No one.
I called my wife to tell her what J.J. had done and Paige started crying too. Jack was so floored he actually WROTE a note to J.J. to thank him and I passed it along to J.J. when I saw him during OTAs. The kid never wrote ANYONE a note, so I knew what J.J.'s actions meant to him. J.J. did so much for people in the City of Houston and Jack was one of millions.
THAT should be his lasting legacy in this town more than anything else. Gonna miss seeing him every day but his memory will always reverberate, in my family for certain.