Call him MegaSanta.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was by himself for Christmas – at first. His family had visited from Wisconsin and left town on Sunday after celebrating Christmas early with him in Houston the previous Friday.
Watt decided to pass the time by playing a 6-5, 295-pound version of Santa Claus. Wearing a Santa hat and street clothes, the second-year star and likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year made impromptu visits all over Houston on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Watt went to a children's hospital, local fire stations, the tragedy-stricken Bellaire Police Department, even a random fan's house. And he did it all alone, unannounced and with no media or publicity.
It started on Christmas Eve. Watt visited a local children's hospital and stayed for about two hours. He may have been there longer had he not gotten held up at a local Academy Sports Outdoors on his way there as he went to buy gifts for the children he was about to visit.
"Our fans are great, but it makes it hard to go shopping," Watt said, smiling, on Wednesday in the Texans' locker room. "That was a lot of fun. I knew I was going to be by myself on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I can't imagine what it's like to be a kid in the hospital on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, so I just wanted to go and see if I could spread some cheer whatsoever. Those were some special moments. Those kids' smiles were unbelievable."
On Christmas Day, Watt was at home by himself and browsing through Twitter on his cell phone. He was moved by the countless tweets he saw from fans with photos of themselves getting a J.J. Watt jersey, T-shirt or Fathead for Christmas.
"It was pretty cool for me to look through Twitter and see the pictures of people opening up 99 jerseys and everybody getting excited," Watt said. "I was reading through some of the comments, and people were kind of sad they didn't get 'em. One fan said, 'Your jersey's sold out everywhere; I can't find it.' So I just randomly picked them out and said, 'Send me your address and I'll send you something better than a jersey,' and attached a picture of my cleats and gloves."
That fan, 19-year-old Maria Barron, couldn't believe it as she saw Watt follow her on Twitter and tweet at her.
"My siblings and I wanted to get our older brother, Alex, a J.J. Watt jersey for Christmas, but with the Texans doing so well, we couldn't find one," Barron said Thursday via e-mail. "Christmas morning, I was still feeling bad that we couldn't get Alex the jersey, so I tweeted to J.J. Watt with hope but didn't really expect him to reply. I screamed when he followed me and showed my siblings."
Maria was so excited that she didn't even notice Watt had included a picture of his gear until her brother Alex pointed it out to her.
"My sister, Alma, was joking that he would hand-deliver the cleats and gloves," Maria said. "We all assumed that he would send them in the mail."
Watt then started driving around town to make several special Christmas visits. He showed up unannounced at several fire stations. He also stopped by the Bellaire Police Department, whose corporal Jimmie Norman was murdered in the line of duty on Christmas Eve.
"I wanted to pay my respect at the police department for the officer who was killed and drop off some cleats," Watt said. "And my dad's a firefighter, so I know what it's like to be a firefighter on Christmas and be away from your family. I was really lucky. The fire departments gave me some great food. Those guys know how to cook."
Since Barron's address was in Houston and he was already driving around, Watt decided it would be easy enough to drop off the gear to her in person. Without any advance notice, he proceeded to drive to her house and pull up outside the front yard.
"My siblings and I were inside watching 'Community.' My mom and aunt were outside. He asked my mom if I was home. She thought J.J. was a friend from College Station. She walked in and told me there was a guy outside. My siblings all looked at each other wondering, and then she added that he was holding some shoes.
"I thought it would be a Texans representative, but when I walked outside, I was speechless. J.J. Watt was standing in my lawn!"
Watt stayed at the Barrons' house for about half an hour. He waited there for a couple of Maria's friends, huge Texans fans, to show up after she called them and said Watt was at her house. He posed for pictures and signed autographs as he sat in their living room. Maria said she and her family and friends were "all so speechless, so J.J. did a lot of the talking," asking them what they got for Christmas and telling them about his day.
"We took pictures and talked for a little bit, just having some fun," Watt said. "They just kept saying, 'I can't believe you're in our house; I can't believe you're here. We're such big fans.' They said it was really cool to see an athlete and a celebrity who would do something like that. I said, 'There's a lot of us out there, but the good stuff doesn't always get the publicity.' It was a really, really cool experience for me, and I had a lot of fun. It was really special to be able to give on Christmas instead of to receive."
Said Barron: "Something so small as J.J. following me on Twitter meant a lot to me, so words cannot explain how thankful we were to have such an amazing athlete visit us on Christmas day. It was a true Christmas miracle."
Asked about his impromptu visits to the Barrons and elsewhere, Watt smiled and said he was "trying to spread the Christmas joy."
"Like they say, giving always feels better than receiving," he said. "That's definitely true."