Culture / Sporting Life

J.J. Watt Fractures His Knee — Superman is Down and Texans Might Not Get Back Up

Superstar Helped Off, Future in Doubt

BY // 10.08.17

Every step J.J. Watt took, brought a grimace, leaving an entire stadium sucking for air. The toughest guy in the building needed help just to walk.

Superman is down. And you have to wonder if the Houston Texans will be able to get back up.

When Watt went down with a left knee injury midway through the first quarter of a Sunday Night Football showcase at NRG Stadium, an entire city may as well have just held its breath. For Watt is the Texans, the man who wrecks opposing offenses and raises an incredible $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief.

The official diagnosis? A fractured leg — specifically a tibial plateau fracture  (it’s the bone below the knee and above the ankle). This is the kind of injury that ends a season — and Watt knows he’ll have to make another grueling comeback if he wants to return in 2018.

Watt is down and out — and the Texans’ season just might be too. Especially with linebacker Whitney Mercilus — the Texans’ second or third best defensive player — tearing his pectoral and being lost for the season in the same game. But with J.J. Watt, this is about much more than just football. A entire city is in pain. More than a few fans in NRG Stadium could be seen with tears streaming down their faces in the immediate aftermath.

For Watt, who fought so hard to come back healthy from last season’s injury (and was starting to look dominant again), this is a potentially devastating blow.

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Talk about a depressing day in Houston sports. First, the Houston Astros lose a chance to sweep the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs and instead give up a torrent of runs, gifting a storied opponent new life and a 10-3 Game 3 win. Then, just hours later, in the biggest regular season television stage the NFL has, Watt goes down.

Watt’s knee appeared to give out as he made a passing rushing move on Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz on an unsuccessful Kansas City third down. No. 99 immediately crumpled — and took a while to even attempt to get up. As he lay on his back, clutching his leg, pain etched across a face that usually laughs at such mortal inconveniences, Texans fans sat silent, almost staring in disbelief.

Someone might as well have kicked Santa Claus in the knee.

“I feel terrible for the guy,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien says, before twice calling Watt “an amazing human being,” essentially speaking for all of Houston.

Watt needed to lean on two Texans support staffers to walk off the field. Tears trickled down his face. The player always knows when it’s something serious. Once he disappeared under one of those new NFL medical privacy blue tents on the sideline, Watt was quickly declared out for the game. He already likely knew by this point that his season was over.

Watching J.J. Watt cry is almost like watching your dad cry. It just doesn’t compute, just doesn’t seem like something that should be happening.

“I was devastated at first,” says second-year Texans Ufomba Kamalu, who found himself having to go in for Mercilus.

Watt was given crutches to lean on and loaded into ambulance for a trip to the hospital before the game even reached halftime.

“It’s football,” Texans defensive end Christian Convington says, understanding the harsh realities of America’s favorite TV show. “But you just feel bad because they’re your brothers. We love those guys.”

Watt’s flesh-and-blood younger brother — ultra-promising Pittsburgh Steelers rookie T.J. Watt — quickly tweeted, “Heartbroken For You Brother. #InjuriesSuck” from across the country. But the worst shock could be felt in the fourth-largest city in the United States.

On the field, the Texans would fall behind 23-7 to the undefeated Chiefs in a muted stadium (you had to feel for Icona Pop — the halftime music act — who looked like they just couldn’t understand why anyone didn’t feel like dancing to their beats) before eventually losing 42-34 in a game that never felt that close. Watson threw a touchdown pass at the buzzer and ran in a two-point conversion with 00:00 on the stadium clock.

“Just keep fighting,” Watson says. “That’s pretty much it. Just keep fighting and praying for each other.”

A little bit of Watson Magic (he left Chiefs defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches grasping at air, spinning out of the big man’s grasp twice before flinging a 48-yard touchdown bomb to Will Fuller) couldn’t change things. Or the mood.

Neither could Fuller’s emergence as the ultimate touchdown maker (the second-year receiver has six catches since returning last week and four of them have gone for touchdowns).

J.J. Watt Stands for Houston

Watt’s become much more than just a football player in this town. He’s become one of Houston’s most recognizable representatives. In many way, No. 99 is an important symbol of the city. When he is taken away in an ambulance, it’s not just a blow to the city’s NFL fans.

Watching J.J. Watt cry is almost like watching your dad cry. It just doesn’t compute, just doesn’t seem like something that should be happening.

For Watt, the questions and doubts that come now are devastating. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year could only play in three games last season before back surgery ended his season. A season later, he lasts four games and half of a quarter.

You have to wonder if Watt will wonder if it’s all worth it anymore. He admitted to contemplating retirement after last season’s injury. Now, Watt faces another long rehab, an even more uncertain future. It’s time to treasure your memories of J.J. Watt even more now — because there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get any new on-the-field ones.

Superman is down. A large swath of Houston is devastated. What does he do  now?

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