It's urban legend that J.J. Watt got booed on draft night. It was just a smattering. I was right there, and the fans didn't understand what and who they were getting.
Wade Phillips had just arrived as defensive coordinator, the Texans were switching to a 3-4 and would surely need a speed demon pass rushing outside linebacker. They needed someone to get to the quarterback.
Little did the fans at the draft party know that they were witnessing the selection of one of the greatest defensive players ever.
It was the lockout year of 2011. We'd have to wait until training camp to see him in uniform. When we did, he was impossible not to notice.
That camp, he blocked countless passes, and as Cal McNair told me at the time, "Nobody can block him."
He had a solid rookie season but it wasn't until the playoff debut and legendary pick-6 that he exploded onto the national landscape. He won Defensive Player of the Year honors three of the next four years.
He caught touchdown passes. He scored on defense. He relentlessly harassed the quarterback. He loved Houston.
He was ours, but he was a national star as well. He guest-starred on everything from New Girl to Bad Moms to The League to hosting Saturday Night Live.
He played catch with kids before the games. He made people's day countless times.
Most importantly, J.J. Watt is a great man and the Texans and Houston are better because he worked here. His work raising dozens of millions after Hurricane Harvey will be talked about for years, maybe hundreds of years.
He's helped many more people than you know about. Sometimes his efforts have gotten publicity, but sometimes it was just between him and the beneficiaries.
I'll miss the big moments. Gary Kubiak once said: "He's kind of like a quarterback where if you need a big play, he makes it." Amen.
Time and time again, Watt came up with a big sack or takeaway that would turn a game around. We mentioned the pick-six. In the 2019 playoffs, he sacked Josh Allen to stop a drive. The stadium erupted. The team came back from a 16-0 deficit, thanks in large part to the fuse he lit.
He's one of the most beloved athletes in this city's storied history. Like many of us, he wasn't born here but made this place his home. At the same time, we all know a little bit more about Wisconsin because of him.
J.J. Watt will play somewhere else next year, but he'll always be a Texan.