Culture / Sporting Life

J.J. Watt Made Houston a Better Place Like Few Athletes Ever Have — No. 99’s Kindness Shines Through Above All

It is Watt's Acts of Caring That Will Never be Forgotten

BY // 02.13.21

J.J. Watt is one of the greatest defensive players of this generation (and arguably all time). Yet, that cannot compare to what he did for Houston when a game clock wasn’t running. That’s almost impossible to fathom. After all, Watt’s football accomplishments are monumental — no less an expert than Lawrence Taylor, the greatest defensive player of all time, has called Watt a top four all-time defensive star.

But somehow even that cannot match up to what Justin James Watt did as a citizen of Houston.

No. 99 made this city a better place like few athletes ever have. Really, like few people period ever have. And he mostly did it with his kindness.

Yes, you can try and quantify it. You bring up the more $41 million his epic fundraising in the wake of Hurricane Harvey raised in relief. That figure is staggering. But it barely begins to illustrate the lives Watt touched during his 10 seasons toiling for a Texans franchise that never gave him the championship he deserves.

J.J. Watt was so consistently. . . well, kind. He’d play catch with kids in the stands before Texans games. He befriended a 12-year-old kid who was mercilessly bullied at school. He built personal relationships with the Berry kids (Peter, Aaron and Willa) whose parents were killed in a head-on collision with a distracted driver while returning from a vacation in Colorado, an accident that also paralyzed Peter and Aaron. Watt stayed in touch with those kids long after the national media moved on.

There are dozens and dozens of stories of J.J. Watt brightening up someone’s life. He’d drop by super fans’ houses and hand deliver jerseys. Or Reeboks. Or pizzas.

It turns out Watt is just as dominant at being caring as he is at football.

No. 99 made Houston a little kinder and nicer place. What’s a better accomplishment than that?

Now, he is no longer a Houston Texan. Watt asked for and got granted his release from the most dysfunctional franchise in professional sports, the one spinning further and further away from the foundation Bob McNair laid under the misdirection of Jack Easterby and Cal McNair. Leaving should give Watt the chance to chase a championship with an organization that knows what it is doing.

But this Wisconsin native will always be a true Houstonian.

J.J. Watt went with the baby blue vintage Earl Campbell Oilers jersey.
J.J. Watt has long shown a reverence for Houston sports — past and present. (@HoustonTexans)

Few have ever embraced this city quite like J.J. Watt. He truly was proud to represent H-Town. He fell in love with Killen’s Barbecue early — before Ronnie Killen truly gained national attention. He used to welcome trick or treaters to his door, showering them with candy, before every week stops-in from random fans became too much and he moved into a gated community.

Great athletes usually leave a trail of athletic feats. Watt has those too. The insanely athletic pick 6 against Cincinnati in his rookie year that powered the Texans to their first playoff win ever. The swats that became a Watt staple and sent quarterbacks screaming into therapy. The two 20 sack seasons. The three touchdown passes he caught while playing tight end in the 2014 season, one of the best and most innovative moves Bill O’Brien made in his entire Houston coaching tenure.

Watt has all those — and an even longer, more impressive roll call of non-playing moments.

The time he “married” a 6-year-old girl with a Ring Pop ring. The 99-year-old grandmother whose day he made with an impromptu hug and kiss.

Just deliberate acts of kindness. J.J. Watt is the anti Donald Trump in so many ways. Not in politics. In demeanor. In going out of his way to make people feel better rather than worse.

Some of the most adorable puppies in the world have triggered less smiles than Watt.

J.J. Watt’s Real Houston Legacy

No. 99 made Houston a little kinder and nicer place. What’s a better accomplishment than that?

This is why so many people who do not follow sports at all care about J.J. Watt.

“I came here 10 years ago as a kid from Wisconsin who’d never really been to Texas before,” Watt says in his predictably classy Texans goodbye video. “And now I can’t imagine my life without Texas in it.”

More than a few Houstonians cannot imagine the city without J.J. Watt in it either.

I have a somewhat complicated tie with Watt. When he was drafted by the Texans, I denounced the pick and predicted the franchise would regret it. In his first few seasons, Watt cited the story several times as one of the things he used for extra motivation. Along with the draft day boos a large contingent of Texans fans broke into (which no Texan fan has ever admitted to doing since).

Watt proved me wrong — and proved Wade Phillips, one of his biggest believers from the beginning, so beyond right. More importantly, he helped change the entire city. With kindness.

Even the last thing Watt did as a Texan, telling franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson sorry for “wasting” one of his years as they walked off the field after the last game of a miserable 2020 season, says plenty. Knowing that his own end in Houston could be near, Watt still thought of someone else first.

He cared enough to express his regrets to Watson. That’s J.J. That’s the guy who helped make an entire city a better place. A Houstonian forever.

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