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Houston Strong signs could be found all around NRG Stadium for the Texans opener. Photo by Chris Baldwin.
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Everyone knew the moment was coming, but that didn’t make it any less dramatic. Or loud. Did we mention how loud it was? When J.J. Watt emerges from the tunnel at last, carrying the Texas flag, NRG Stadium erupts in a way it quite never has before.
This might not have been the absolute loudest the Houston Texans’ stadium has ever been, but it sure felt like it. And if it wasn’t, it’s close. For a pregame introduction. Repeat — for a pregame intro.
This is what happens when you help lift a devastated city up with the force of your star power — and willingness to get involved. The crazy loud ovation for Watt before the Texans’ season opener isn’t just about the fact that he’s the best defensive player in football. It’s all about what he’s done in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
It’s about the incredible $31 million (and counting) that Watt has raised through his own relentless fundraising drive. It is a thank you for the way this 28-year-old football star from Wisconsin understands everything about what it truly means to be a Houstonian. It is a testament to the love Watt has given right back to his adopted city (the one that booed him on draft night — as much as everyone wants to pretend that never happened).
So the crowd roared. And roared. And roared some more.
Sports intros tend to be completely overblown, over-dramatized affairs. See any NBA intro for reference (particularly any NBA intro involving LeBron James). But this one, on this first Texans game post Harvey, feels so different.
The sustained roar is enough to give anyone who isn’t a member of the Walking Dead goosebumps.
The noise just keeps coming, the love just keeps washing over Watt. In all the emotional moments of this emotional Texans gameday, this is the one that resonates most. Having first responders hold the giant Texas flag and the even larger, field-covering American flag, in the pregame is a wonderful touch. The video tributes to the flooding victims and the relief efforts are nice.
But nothing beats the simple moment when Justin James Watt’s name is called out.
Watt makes sure he is Houston strong for the occasion, right down to his shoes. Watt wears special Texas flag cleats — red, white and blue with the star over his ankles. It’s just another nice touch in a few weeks of doing everything possibly right.
The noise — one of the loudest cheers ever in this building — pays honor to all that.
Of course, then the Texans of Tom Savage fall behind the Jacksonville Jaguars 19-0. The first boos of the season come with 13:57 left in the second quarter — and they’re directed at the shaky Savage.
Even J.J. Watt cannot guarantee everything is storybook. But at least, we had the intro.