On March 22, 1739, precisely 250 years before the birth of J.J. Watt, a middle-eastern military leader earned this future Wikipedia entry: “Nadir Shah occupies Delhi in India and sacks the city, stealing the jewels of the Peacock Throne.” Coincidence? I think not. Watt might not be stealing any jewelry, but the sack-master reincarnated has kept the echoes of history alive. Any quarterback facing Houston would be excused for protecting his jewels.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
March 22, 1989: Two Tough Athletes Intertwine
That fateful day in late March of ’89 did more than gift us a newborn Butkus bestowed the name of Justin James. As if connected to Watt by the cosmos, another athlete displayed an unprecedented display of resilience and toughness that day. Clint Malarchuk of the Buffalo Sabres suffered a terrifying injury when another player’s skate cut his throat. He survived.
Getty ImagesBob Levey
And hockey survived in J.J. Watt’s young heart. It was the young athlete’s first love. He played until he was 13, when the immense cost of equipment forced him to quit and pursue other sports.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
That pursuit paid off. In 2007, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel named Watt their high school athlete of the year. The 290-pound beast you know now gets a generous estimate of 235 from the Journal-Sentinel, and looks skinnier. But his raw talent was obvious. Not only did Watt excel in football, but he also averaged 13.6 points per game in basketball and broke the school record in the shotput … a record that had been held by his dad. What a legacy.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
Despite all of that, Watt wasn’t exactly an Under-Armour All-American. Rivals had the senior tight-end/defensive end combo rated as a two-star prospect, not even worthy of a national ranking. His Rivals highlights showcased more tight-end blocks than sacks. Let’s put it this way: No one committed any recruiting violations to get this guy on their campus.
You may know that Watt’s first college action came as a Central Michigan Chippewa … and at tight end. You might even know that he caught eight passes for 77 yards. But did you know that his yardage total places him, according to sports-reference.com, 77th on CMU’s all-time receiving ranks? Clearly, Watt saw the beautiful mathematic symmetry and decided to transfer before he ruined it with another catch.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsRaj Mehta
Watt Eats Your Buffalo Wings
Everyone knows the story about Watt walking on at Wisconsin and delivering Pizza Hut pizzas for much-needed money. What most people don’t know is that Watt totally scarfed some poor guy’s hot wings. On one delivery, Watt tried to make it through a winter storm, eventually getting his car stuck in an embankment. After two tow trucks failed to get him out, time passed and hunger called. Watt decided to eat the order of pizza and wings for himself. Wouldn’t want it to get cold.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
Watt's a Smart Man
Once he made it out of the snow and into Wisconsin, Watt didn’t major in your typical communications degree. The guy’s focus of study essentially trained him in Scientific and Agricultural Journalism. And he made good grades. Forget a future job with FOX Sports. This guy should be out there helping us understand the Ebola outbreak and the impact of the summer droughts on corn production.
APDavid J. Phillip
Following His Footsteps
With Watt taking classes like Social Media in the Life Sciences, it’s no wonder his baby brothers followed in his footsteps. Derek Watt (pictured), a redshirt junior, plays fullback for the Badgers, though he might be sore about the fact that he has fewer career touchdowns (1) than big brother has touchdowns this season (3). Baby brother T.J. has some bragging rights, though. The redshirt freshman tight end was a three-star recruit. Even J.J. can’t say that.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Better Than Braun
Maybe Watt would have been a 5-star baseball recruit. He stopped playing as a sophomore to focus on football, but apparently he didn’t lose his swing. This guy once took batting practice with the Milwaukee Brewers …and hit seven home runs.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AssociatedCharles Rex Arbogast
Doubters Still Doubted
Even after all of Watt’s success in Wisconsin, he wasn’t considered a home-run prospect. A respected source of NFL scouting went as far as to say, Watt had “to develop pass rushing moves” and was “very much a work in progress.” Perhaps it was just a typo and the guy meant to say, “Um, yeah –really good.”
Getty ImagesChris Trotman
People Didn't Know Him from Adam
A common comparison at the time was a player named Adam Carriker. Carriker had 9 career sacks and has not played since 2012. In four fewer starts, Watt has 40.5 sacks. But I can see the resemblance.
USA TODAY SportsGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Even J.J. Had His Doubts
As recently as 2010, Watt actually started a sentence with this phrase: “So if I make it to the NFL…” You made it J.J.; you made it.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
The Pride of Pewaukee?
You’d think that coming from a town of just over 13,000 people, Watt wouldn’t have much competition for hometown hero. Except, he was actually the second Pewaukee, Wis., native to become a Badger, get drafted in the first round, and play in the NFL. The first was Chris McIntosh, whom the Seahawks drafted in 2000. Recurring neck injuries cut his career short.
Courtesy: J.J. Watt via Twitter
A Script-Worthy Story
Another man that made it from Pewaukee to the big-time is David Koepp, the screenwriter behind movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Mission Impossible.” Somehow, his latest film, “Premium Rush,” isn’t about J.J. Watt. It should be.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Koepp Might Have Forgot Watt, But Watt Never Forgot Wisconsin
Watt is well-known for his philanthropy. But a look at this list shows just how far he goes to help out the future stars of Wisconsin sports. Through his foundation, he has essentially outfitted every youth athlete in the Badger State.
Courtesy: Abby Schabel via Twitter
The Lengths He'll Go ...
J.J. Watt is willing to sacrifice a lot for the greater good. Imagine what it looked like when this 6-5 near-300-pound behemoth waded through a sea of preteens at a Justin Bieber concert. But before you harp on him too hard, know it was for a good cause. He went with two brothers, Peter and Aaron Berry, who had been paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. Both Watt and the Biebs bonded with the boys and helped raise money.
Getty ImagesAl Bello
Watt's No Bully
You probably saw this, but it’s worth seeing again. JJ might bully offensive linemen ON the field, but off the field, he helped a bullied kid find his confidence –and get a chance to play.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
On the field, Watt finds a different, and much more terrifying, way to reach out and lend a hand. The man’s mitts measure 11 and 1/8 inches from thumb to pinkie. That’s a smidgeon longer than an actual regulation NFL football. No wonder he bats them down so easily.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Like, Really, He is a S(Watt)ing Machine
Seriously, he bats down a lot of balls. How many? Well, you might remember that he defended or deflected 16 passes in 2012, alone. That’s more than Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan swatted in his entire career. That’s more than former cornerback great Ronde Barber knocked down in all but 5 of his 16 seasons. Charles Woodson only hit that number four times. Among top pass rushers, Jared Allen never surpassed 10 passes defended. Demarcus Ware never went higher than 6. Dwight Freeney topped out at 3. They don’t call this guy J.J. Swatt for nothing.
Getty ImagesScott Halleran
J.J. Just Wants to Work
Despite all of that, Watt stays humble. So humble, in fact, that last spring, when he headed north to stay close to home and work out at the gym he’s used since adolescence, the soon-to-be-100-million-dollar-man decided to crash on a friend’s apartment floor. Apparently Watt never needs to hit the sack; he’s too busy working to get more of them.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsKirby Lee
Watt is FOX Official
And last but not least, JJ Watt has been Simpsonized by an actual artist from The Simpsons. Here at FOX, that’s the ultimate sign that you’ve made it. Watt, an author of impossible plays, is becoming a subject of fiction. He represents mythology in real time as we scramble to sculpt his story into something as legendary as his actions unfolding on the field. Hopefully we don’t forget that his real story is just as worthy of remembrance. Now you know.