J.J. Watt rose into sight on a recent episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks" as he walked across the bridge over Kirby to the Texans' practice fields.
In that episode he was part football player, part mythical beast, part superhero. Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Tice called him a "freakazoid" and he might not be far off.
Watt isn't just good. He's the best defensive player in football and he's getting better. His stats in 2013 didn't match his Defensive Player of the Year season prior but he might have been better.
And he isn't just rich anymore. Now, he's landed the richest contract of any defensive player in the NFL.
MegaWatt's got megabucks.
And it's hard to think of anyone more deserving.
Because that "Hard Knocks" episode was on to something. Watt isn't just a football player; not in Houston. In this city, Watt is Elvis and the Beatles rolled into one. Don't believe it? Go to any open training camp practice. Hear grown women shriek. Hear grown men "ooh" and "aahh."
Watch little kids gaze in wonderment as the larger-than-life Watt, with an even larger-than-life-smile, runs onto the practice field to put in more hard work.
And that's really where the love affair begins. If anyone could ever deserve a $100 million contract, it's Watt. If anyone could ever be expected to work even harder after getting one, well, it's Watt.
It's true that the Texans didn't need to extend him now. They had him under contract for two more years but they got the deal done before the 2014 season and Watt deserved that too.
He had clearly out-played his rookie contract after being taken with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft out of Wisconsin.
Watt could have held out. He could have caused a fuss outside of recent -- and polite -- comments that he wanted a new deal. But he didn't hold out. He didn't try to strong-arm the organization that gave him a start in the league. He didn't want to miss practice. He didn't want to miss out on teaching his younger teammates; he's a true leader.
Andre Johnson is the unquestioned best player in the franchise's history; but Watt's the face.
And now he's the future.
His image isn't squeaky clean; it's sterile. And that's no accident. His image means a lot to him and it's already made him a lot of money even before his new mega-deal. It’s important to him that it stays intact. He speaks in clichés and recognizes he does it. But as he said recently, clichés are clichés for a reason, right?
Watt works hard and he’s not shy about sharing it. He spent part of his offseason sleeping on his buddy’s floor in Wisconsin, trying to live a “Rocky” lifestyle. Teammate Brooks Reed wisely opted for a hotel room.
He lets everyone know he’s a hard-worker but he really is. Coaches and teammates rave about his work ethic. Owner Bob McNair told rookie Jadeveon Clowney that if he just followed Watt and did what he did, he’d be alright. Hard to argue that.
And Watt doesn’t just give some to charity … he goes out of his way. He's kind when people are watching and even greater when no one's around.
He's the kind of guy you want to hate because he's just too damn perfect. But then you realize he's too damn nice to hate and turn on yourself.
He's the guy who was running late to a charity golf tournament and declined to speak to media members but then made sure to send an apology, explaining that the golfers had paid money to play with him and he didn't want to let them down.
He's the guy who befriended Aaron, Willa and Peter Berry, who were orphaned after their parents were killed in a head-on collision in 2011. He even dedicated a special sack dance in their honor.
He’s the guy who found out about a 6-year-old girl named Breanna Bartay who cried – broke down, really – in a YouTube video when she was informed she wasn’t old enough to marry the football superstar. So Watt brought her to the stadium for a fake proposal and gave her and her family a day they’ll never forget.
He’s the guy who started the J.J. Watt Foundation, which has already raised over $600,000 for middle school athletic programs in Wisconsin and Texas. His charity softball game has sold out Constellation Field – which holds 7,500 fans – for two straight years.
Now, Watt has his new contract and he’ll be in Houston through 2021. That’s at least eight more charity softball games.
He just might need to find a bigger venue.
- Dave Zangaro, CSN Houston