Best Of Houston 2013: J.J. Watt made Houstonians love him, whether they wanted to or not

Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
Ain't we lucky we got him? Good times.
The NFL Draft is a time of hope for every team, and in April 2011, Houston Texans fans were in dire need of some hope. Coming off a 2010 season where their team's defense was historically awful, fans wanted something big on draft night.

So the Texans were on the clock. Fans chewed their nails nervously in anticipation as the card was handed to Commissioner Roger Goodell. He stepped to the microphone and read:

"With the 11th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select defensive end J.J. Watt from Wisconsin."

The response from much of Houston?


Whether it was because fans lazily stereotyped Watt as "a big, plodding white kid from the Big Ten" or because Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley of national champion Auburn was on the board at the time, Houston fans in sports bars and at Texans draft parties booed.

Think about how silly that sounds now -- Texans fans booed J.J. Watt.

And you know who heard them that night? J.J. Watt, that's who.

"I heard the boos on draft night, and since then my goal has been to make this city proud every day. The people here are unbelievable. The fans are rabid; they get it," Watt said, despite the evidence to the contrary on draft night, when asked about his initial impressions of Houston.

So in an age where players' "doing something about it" often means whining on social media or taking callous offense at criticism, J.J. Watt set out to convert the city of Houston in the most Wattian way possible -- he went to work.

What Houstonians now know, and what the rest of the National Football League is quickly learning, is that Watt's "going to work" means a whole lot more than the punching of the proverbial clock.

When J.J. Watt goes to work, records get set, money gets raised, mountains get moved.
In the Texans' 3-4 defense, defensive ends typically don't pile up big sack numbers, yet in 2012, Watt came within an eyelash of breaking the NFL record for sacks in a season with 20 1/2. For good measure, Watt added 16 passes defended, a stat normally reserved for defensive backs. Not surprisingly, he took home the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year honor.

But that's just on Sundays, and the love affair between Watt and the city of Houston is not just a one-day-a-week thing. The stories of Watt's random acts of kindness are legendary, and the videos on YouTube of his charitable works and good-heartedness could fill a DVD box set.

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Reminds me of another Houston footballer who went undrafted altogether by the NFL, then went to 9 pro bowls and is in the Hall of Fame.

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