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Why J.J. Watt Should Be Your Favorite NFL Player

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Why J.J. Watt Should Be Your Favorite NFL Player
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

We all know Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt as an incredibly talented football player who terrorized quarterbacks across the National Football League in his second season.

What fewer people know is that Watt is gaining a reputation as much for his good work off the field as the havoc he wreaks on it.

Watt was the runaway winner of the 2012-13 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award after a season in which he tallied a league-leading 20.5 sacks and batted down a ridiculous 16 passes.

However, what Watt has been up to when he's away from the gridiron is far more impressive than what he accomplished as a player this season.

Back in November, in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Watt pantomimed the act of rolling a wheelchair after sacking quarterback Chad Henne.

As Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle reported at the time, the "sack dance" was a tribute to the Berry children, three Houston-area kids who were seriously injured and lost their parents in an automobile accident:

It was a nod to the Berry children, with whom Watt has grown close.

“I was eating dinner at their house on Friday night,” Watt said. “They said they’re going to be watching the game. They said give us a signal. I said OK, when I get a sack, I’ll do the wheelchair.”

Willa, Aaron and Peter Berry were orphaned July 2, 2011, when a head-on collision on U.S. 285 killed their parents. The accident severely injured Willa, who was then 6, and paralyzed Aaron, then 8, and Peter, then 9, from the waist down.

Watt befriended the children beyond the occasional fundraiser. He played wheelchair basketball with them last week, which gave him the idea for the post-sack celebration.

That story later gained national attention thanks to a report by ESPN's Rick Reilly, but Watt was just getting started.

About a week ago, after a YouTube video made the rounds of a six-year-old girl tearfully bemoaning the fact that she was too young to marry Watt, Watt took to Twitter to try to turn that frown upside down.

Christina Ng of ABC News broke down what happened next:

About two weeks later, the video made its way to Watt, who tweeted, "Does anyone happen to know this cute little girl? We have to find her and turn those tears into a smile."

(Breanna's mother Lindsey) Bartay said she received some negative comments from people saying she was trying to get something from Watt by posting the video, so when he finally called and said he wanted to meet Breanna, Bartay was initially reluctant.

"But he was like, 'No, no. I really want to do it for her,'" Bartay recalled.

Watt wanted to surprise his young fan, so he set up a tour of the Houston Texans Reliant Stadium for her. When Breanna asked her mom if Watt would be there, Bartay said that he couldn't be there because he had an early flight and wouldn't be able to make it.

Breanna was disappointed but thrilled to see the giant photos of Watt in the stadium. A tour guide walked the family through the gift shop, and a surprise was waiting in the next room.

"When we walked through the next room, he was down on one knee with the Ring Pop in his hand and he said, 'Breanna, come here,'" Bartay said.

At first, Breanna thought Watt was a statue, saying to her mother, "He looks so real."

"Then she walked over to him and he said, 'I know we can't really get married, but would you be my pretend wife for the day? And she said yes," Bartay recalled with a laugh. "Then he said, 'Thank goodness. I didn't know what I was going to do if you said no. I was so nervous. I've never fake proposed before.'"

That's a fair amount of effort to go to to make one six-year-old girl happy, but Watt did it anyway.

Watt still wasn't finished. A week later he was at it again.

After Watt learned that diehard Houston fans Nathan and Stephanie Poe's wedding featured a life-size "J.J. Watt cake," the real Watt decided to repay those fans for their support of the Texans.

This time it was Katie Kindelan of ABC News who reported what happened next:

The Poes opted for a full-size replica of JJ Watt from the waist-up. The cake, which Stephanie Poe would say only was “priceless,” stole the show at the couple’s Texas wedding, so much so that a groomsmen tweeted it to Darren Rovell of ESPN.

Rovell just happens to be one of the only 106 people Watt follows on Twitter, so when Rovell re-tweeted the cake photo, Watt asked him for the couple’s address so he could send a wedding present.

“He called me at work yesterday and said that JJ Watt wanted to send us a wedding present and that’s why he needed my address,” Stephanie, a recruiter for Reliant in Houston, said of the surprise call.

Later that day, Stephanie Poe was at home finishing an interview with a local TV station about the couple’s cake when she got an even bigger surprise.

Photo Courtesy of KTRK-TV

JJ Watt had forgone the mail service and was standing in the hallway of the couple’s apartment bearing wedding gifts.

“He brought us autographed jerseys and cleats,” Stephanie said. “I just said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

The only downside of this wedding fairytale? Stephanie’s husband, and Watt’s biggest fan, Nathan, wasn’t there to see it. Poe, as he is called, works in the oil industry and is one week into his 21-day offshore rotation.

“As happy as he was, he was very disappointed he missed it,” Stephanie said. “He told me it was the equivalent of Taylor Swift stopping by while I was at work and me missing it.”

Not one to leave a fan hanging, Watt recorded a message for Poe on Stephanie’s iPhone.

Now, cynics might say that Watt is in these acts as much for the publicity they generate as the goodness of his heart.

First off, I don't buy that for a second. Every indication is that he's just a genuinely good young man who realizes what a blessing he's been given and wants to pass those blessings around.

That's beyond admirable.

Second, even if he is in it to get his picture taken, I don't care even a little bit.

The publicity that his relationship with the Berry children generated sparked a huge increase in donations to the trust set up to help allay the massive expenses associated with caring for two paralyzed young boys.

Breanna Bartay will carry the memory of that "proposal" with her for the rest of her life.

The Poes' marriage has now begun with a tale that will live on the history of their family forever, one they will share with their children and grandchildren.

If there's a downside to any of that, I'm not seeing it.

Granted, Watt is far from the only professional athlete who gives back to the community and fans.

However, those stories don't get nearly the publicity they should in an age where the headlines are dominated by PEDs and drunk-driving arrests.

That's a shame.

Watt is a fantastic football player, one who appears to have a career ahead of him that could one day see him enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As great an athlete as he is, it would seem that Watt is an even better person.

That's a story worth telling.

 

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