While most of us saw it coming, it’s still hard to believe Justin James Watt is no longer a Houston Texan. To say this might very well turn out as the worst offseason in Texans history isn’t a stretch, and Watt leaving is certainly a nail in that coffin.
Instead of crying in our collective beverage of choice, however, let’s take some time to re-live our favorite moment of J.J. Watt’s time with the Houston Texans.
1. January 7, 2012. Watt intercepts a ball at the line of scrimmage and runs it in for a touchdown in the Texans’ first playoff game, against the Bengals. I’m living in the Middle East and stayed up late, bleary-eyed, to watch the game. It was one of those moments that people occasionally experience when something happens and you know you just saw something, but the rational part of your brain can’t really understand what just happened - it’s just too extreme, too bizarre, too impossible to be real. Like Laird Hamilton surfing a liquid cave-in in Tahiti, or Alex Honnold climbing a 3,000 foot cliff without ropes. Defensive linemen don’t just pick the ball out of thin air and run it in for a touchdown. That’s some matrix-level shit, right there. This was back in the days when we had hope, when Smithiak was going to ride Schaub and Foster and Dre and Ryans and Watt and we were going to make deep runs. At that moment, Houston was JJ’s and JJ was ours. The crowd was as loud and passionate as any I can recall for a Houston game, including the famous Monday Night game where Earl Campbell went ham. We didn’t know it then, but JJ was already building himself a wing in the pantheon of Houston legends, elbowing his way up onto a pedestal with the likes of Earl, Hakeem, and Nolan. And ... we didn’t know it then, but that was as far as JJ was ever going to go in the playoffs with the Texans. It was a good moment, and I’ll always be grateful that I stayed up for that.
2. September 2, 2014. Watt signs a contract extension that, according to some very smart people, was really team-friendly. There is a school of thought that holds that, when an athlete scores that big contract, they have lost one of the main incentives to play hard. I mean, they’re rich, why would they keep trying hard, right? They’ve already got it made. Watt’s response to that idea would’ve been a Bull Durham-level cliche coming from anyone else. “I don’t want to be the guy that people say got the money and shut down, the goal is to always be great,” he said. Like there was any doubt, as if anyone who had ever seen him play so much as a series would dare to think otherwise. No matter what happened, through multiple injuries, ups and downs, the holding on every play, the Easterbies and the Osweilers, and through the years when everyone but the people at the top of the Texans org chart (and a few too-clever-by-half BRBtards) knew that whatever window of opportunity that had existed was now closed, JJ Watt brought every ounce of his body, soul, and mind to bear on every play. He made that contract look like as much of a deal as a Mathusalem of Dom Perignon for sale in a dollar store.
3. September 2017. Hurricane Harvey assaults Houston the way BFD assaults the Golden Corral buffet or Little Matt assaults Willy Wonka, causing $125 billion in damage and 68 fatalities. Watching the devastation from afar was horrible. My hometown, literally drowned. Nonetheless, a few silver linings emerged. Old friends of mine, people I grew up with, who stayed behind in Houston and settled, banded together. A friend, who had until the day before been involved in the most heated, name-calling political discussions with another friend, literally dropped what he was doing to drive his truck through the floodwaters, rescue the guy he’d been arguing with (and his family), and put them up in his house. This is what Houston is all about in my mind, and I’ve never been prouder to be from the city. And Watt proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he got it, too. Lots of athletes are involved in charitable work. For some, it’s nothing more than good PR and a way to build the brand. For others, it’s a chance to do something a little more spiritually fulfilling than simply playing a sport. I’m not here to figure out which athlete falls into which category, nor do I generally care all that much. But JJ Watt? That’s a little different. In the wake of the hurricane, a lot of people did what they could to help. (Others, not so much.) Watt stepped up to the plate, hoping to raise $200,000. But like I said up above, Houston is JJ’s and JJ is ours. When all was said and done, Watt raised $42 million for Harvey relief. No one else could capitalize on Houstonians’ generosity and sense of community like Watt, nor could anyone else harness their starpower to bring in money from around the globe. If there is one example that highlights what JJ Watt meant and will always mean to Houston, and what Houston is as a city, it’s that one.
Also, there was the time that he sacked a quarterback and pretended to take a selfie. That almost made the list.
These are just three examples of many. But when you think of JJ Watt as an athlete, you end up thinking of him as a model professional with the mindset of a bulldog inside the body of an elite physical specimen. And then you end up thinking of him as a human being who has always been striving to be better, closer to perfect, just as in his professional life. And then you think that he had the rotten luck to join a franchise that really only excels at one thing: pissing away the prime years of the few great players it has, through luck more than skill, managed to acquire.
MATT “I hope Watt signs with my Titans” WESTON:
My frontal lobe wasn’t fully constructed, and I wasn’t completely online when J.J. Watt was drafted in 2011. I don’t remember anything from when he was selected, or much from his rookie season, aside from THE PLAY. THE PLAY of course was when he leaped into the atmosphere and plucked an Andy Dalton check down right out of the air like a house cat stealing a common sparrow. From that moment on Watt has dominated the league.
I don’t have a single moment, but I have an entire season. His 2014 season was the most dominant season the league has ever seen from a defensive lineman. 20.5 sacks, 51 quarterback hits, 29 tackles for a loss, 10 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 2 defensive touchdowns, and even 3 receiving touchdowns. There were so many moments from that specific season that will never be lost along the highways of my brain. The touchdown catch against Oakland, the art museum heist fumble recovery touchdown v. Indy, the despicable things he did to Gosder Cherilus who resorted to tripping Watt to block him, his get off against Tyron Smith and miss of Tony Romo, the nine quarterback hit and zero sack performance against Buffalo (my personal favorite game of Watt’s career) where he won the game on his own by picking off EJ Manuel, the four sacks on Zach Methenberger and the selfie stick, chasing down Blake Bortles time and time again, somehow sticking two feet in against Cleveland on a fade route to ensure a win on Alfred Blue’s big day, and over the course of the entire season, on a team that completely ignored the quarterback position, Watt was sometimes the entirety of the Texans defense and offense. J.J., who brought it every week, almost carried Houston the postseason, and most importantly, he always made watching the Houston Texans worth it.
For me, it’s pretty easy.
I was not a fan of the pick at the time. At all. I have no shame in saying this, either. Mario Williams was going to occupy the Elephant on Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 defense. When Watt was drafted, it was like we were giving up on Williams entirely.
What changed my mind was that first pre-season game Watt played in in 2011. The dude jumped off the screen, and not just a little. I think it took me all of three snaps to understand how special Watt was going to be (to some degree!).
So many fall for the hilarity that are players like Lestar Jean in the pre-season. JJ Watt was the real thing from Day 1, and it was obvious.
Williams collected five (5) sacks in five games and was hurt. We didn’t re-sign him, totes obvs.
JJ Watt went on to become the most impactful DE in NFL history.
J.J. Watt’s career in Houston is defined by dominance, honesty, and perseverance. His ruthless nature of playing football and sheer determination was unlike any other defensive ends I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and I have never seen one defensive lineman completely control the pace of the game for years on end like he has. He was an unrelenting force in the purest sense, and I can think of three moments of his time in Houston that exemplify that: The interception/touchdown against the Bengals in his rookie season IN THE PLAYOFFS, the 2017 season defined by his humanitarian work, and the Josh Allen sack on 3rd and 8 in the 2019 Wild Card round.
That 1st & 10 play with a minute left in the half where Dalton was just trying to see if he could get something going before halftime was the moment Watt decided his time in the NFL had come. He shoved the entire Earth down with his launch and snared that football out of the sky like his entire life had led to that exact moment. Once he had descended from the heavens with football in hand, the seas parted for his furious sprint into the end zone as the entire planet erupted in excitement. It was the moment Houston realized Watt was not only good, but the best player in the history of Houston football.
After that play, J.J. Watt spent the next four years redefining what could be accomplished on a football field. 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 were years of unrivaled dominance. Every play Watt spent on the gridiron showed his brutal determination to make a play, and how entire masses of men meant to stop him could only put up as much of a fight as falling leaves in the fall wind. Like that chilling autumn wind that ushers in a new season, J.J. Watt’s power and perseverance represented the shifting NFL world where he was the center of all things, and the futility of all that stood in his way. The season’s change is as inevitable as time itself, and Watt’s time was here. He was an artist in his prime.
But, like all artists, Watt went through several periods in his career. Those remarkable years were going to end eventually, but his finale to the period blindsided everyone in horrible fashion with back to back season-ending injuries. However, while his artistry on the field was on sabbatical, his work off the field took center stage. J.J. Watt’s humanitarian efforts to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a truly extraordinary effort that put Houston on track towards recovery. His honesty in wanting to help Houstonians as much as he possibly could improved the lives of thousands and inspired those around him. It’s something that, many years from now, Watt may be remembered for more than his Herculian efforts on the football field. In that way, Watt represents Houston pride.
Then, in 2019, Watt was prepared to build on his magnificent 2018 season and get back to his dominating self. For the first half of the 2019 season, he did just that. A renaissance was on the verge of manifestation; a brilliant return to form. But, again, a curveball was thrown in his direction and disaster struck: a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the rest of the season. His season was over...or so we thought. After surgery, Watt was determined to not let another season vanish into the rearview mirror in such heartbreaking fashion. Watt was set on doing the unthinkable and returning to the field before the 2019 season was over, taking on time itself and flying through recovery at rapid pace. While a decision like this is likely not the healthiest one, Watt would not be denied. After months of work and exhaustion, his perseverance (yet again) bore fruit. J.J. Watt was back on the roster for Houston’s wildcard playoff game against the Buffalo Bills.
It was a hard game for the Texans, with most of the first half defined by an inability to move the ball much at all on offense and being shoved around by a still mediocre Josh Allen on defense. Entering the second half, the Texans were down 13-0 and looking for anything to get some momentum. Just a spark to wake the team up before they choked away another playoff game. And, of course, it was Watt answering the call in his first game back. On a crucial 3rd & 8 on the Houston 11-yardline with 6:49 left in the third quarter, the Texans got that spark. Watt exploded out of his stance and screamed by the tackle on his way to the quarterback, flying directly into a bewildered Allen and smashing his soul into the mantle beneath NRG Stadium. The whole stadium exploded in joy as they just realized Watt had come in clutch again and provided that spark they dearly needed. After that play, the Texans were practically unstoppable on their way to winning the first playoff game in the Deshaun Watson era. It’s too bad it will also be the last.
It is heartbreaking that after a moment like that, we would talking about the end of his career in Houston only one year later. That was supposed to be the beginning of his renaissance, coinciding with Deshaun Watson’s emergence as the player to send the Texans to the promised land. Like a ceremonial passing of the torch, Watt had began his dominance with a game-changing play in the playoffs, and ended it with a game-changing play in the playoffs. As sad as it is that it was all for not, at least we can thank him for the memories that we will always cherish while adorned in Battle Red. His dominance, perseverance, and honesty will be remembered in Houston forever.
Like most in Texans fandom, I didn’t think all that much of Watt whenthe Texans drafted him in 2011. I knew we needed to improve thedumpster fire of a defense from 2010, and with Wade Phillips at thehelm, there was every expectation that the team could only improve. Ididn’t recall much of Watt from college, but while I had my doubts, Ialso had faith that the Texans knew what they were doing (rememberthose days?). I think every Texans fan is glad that Watt proved uswrong. The first half of his career, before the injuries starting withthe Wild Card Abomination, was arguably the most dominant of any NFLdefenders.
What stood out to me about Watt was his 2014 season. While overseas, Iwas able to stream the Texans’ games that year. It was BO’B firstseason, and there was the sense that the team would rebound fromwhatever it was that sank them in 2013. Watt was a big part of that.He just blew up every front that faced him. There was rarely a playthat didn’t see him at least in the backfield, whether he got home onthe QB/ball-carrier or not. As the Texans best player at that point,B’OB, before power and the thoughts of GM glory corrupted him, lookedto get Watt in positions to succeed, and with him the team. JJ Watt asthe team’s primary red zone receiver was a stroke of genius, and afterthe first play in Oakland, the other touchdowns required some legitreceiving skills.
Sometimes it didn’t always work. Watt getting 2 roughing the kickerpenalties in a game against Cleveland worked against his aggressivenature. However, the full arsenal was on display. The team onlyfinished 9-7, mostly due to the fact that there was no consistency atquarterback (quality of play, or just player health), but would thesquad have gotten to that without that season from Watt? Yes, it is aquarterback league, and Rodgers had a good year and Green Bay got tothe playoffs. However, and I will confess to chugging my Battle Redwhiskey here, Watt should have won the MVP for that year.
Of course, there is more to Watt than his on-field prowess. He wasperhaps the first NFL star to truly leverage social media to improvehis brand/Q rating. Early on, it could get a little self-serving(which is a feature of social media writ large). However, when Harveyslammed Houston, Watt was able to leverage his social media skills tobring about one of the biggest private hurricane relief packages inrecent memory. That just took him from a great Houston-based athleteto outright great humanitarian. Perhaps only Hakeem or Carl Lewis canrate higher in the pantheon of Houston sports stars at this point.
Yes, it is inevitable that most pro sports stars will move on beforeall is said and done. The reserve clauses of old are dead, and prosports is a business. The backstory for Watt’s departure need not berecounted here. Still, it is unfortunate that Watt could not finishhis career where it started. Still, you figure on Watt’s jersey beingthe second Texans jersey in Canton, right next to Andre Johnson’s.Until then, we have the memories (and the social media clips tore-live that glorious 2014 season).
I will always think of 3 things when J.J. Watt comes to mind, which each trigger a variety of other things, but these 3 are integral to my mental file of the best defensive lineman to ever play the game.
1. J.J. Watt picks off Andy Dalton and runs it in for 6!
I was standing next to a good friend, who’s a Cowboy fan, and watching the playoff game with the Houston Texans vs the Cincinnati Bengals live on TV. My buddy wasn’t on the Watt tip yet and I told him “Love the guy, he reminds me of Howie Long” and a moment later Watt snatched the ball out of the air and took it to the house. Right then and there, Watt became one of my all-time favorite athletes.
2. J.J. Watt ruins another Cincinnati Bengals game for them.
Andy Dalton, trying to make something out of nothing, chucks the ball to his center of all people in a crazy, end of game play. Unfortunately for the Bengals center, Watt had had enough and wasn’t having anymore. Just as the center caught the ball, Watt de-cleated him with a spear move straight out of Friday Night Raw.
3. J.J. Watt raises over $37 million for the people of Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
In a the “what’s in it for me?” age, having an athlete create this sort of impact for the city where he plays is amazing, having it happen in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit Texas just goes to show Watt’s timing was almost always perfect.
Now, stuff like Watt heckling the New Orleans Saints after he destroyed Drew Brees again and again, or watching him go full beast mode on Hard Knocks will always stand as highlights for me, but the 3 above are the tip of the spear.
These are our favorite moments of J.J. Watt’s amazing career. What are yours?