A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

Texans' J.J. Watt wins the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award thanks to his fundraising efforts for Harvey relief

J.J. Watt had his impact off the field in 2017. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

J.J. Watt is the NFL’s Man of the Year.

The Texans defensive lineman won the Walter Payton Award Saturday night during the NFL Honors show, beating out Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson. Both were deserving, but Watt’s efforts after Hurricane Harvey all but made him a shoo-in.

As the damage from the storm was becoming clear, Watt posted a video online with a goal of raising $200,000 to help the city recover from Harvey’s devastation. Watt’s efforts drew national attention, and 19 days later he had raised an amazing $37 million, with donations from many celebrities from all over the country. Watt became one of the faces of recovery in the storm’s aftermath, giving hope to a battered city.

When Watt was named one of the three finalists, he tweeted out this: “Humbled & honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as Walter Payton. Also happy to share the nomination with @BenjaminSWatson and @gregolsen88 who are both extremely deserving. This is so much bigger than just one man. It’s about the good in all of humanity.”

Olsen and Watson have helped numerous people through their charitable foundations and epitomize what is best in people. Watt put an entire city on his shoulders in the aftermath of a disaster and made the world take notice.

The 28-year-old Watt would go on to miss most of the 2017 season with a broken leg. A three-time defensive player of the year, Watt has been the face of the franchise for most of his Texans career, which began in 2011. But his off-field efforts were much more important.

On the field, the Texans are hoping a healthy Watt and quarterback Deshaun Watson can propel them back to the playoffs next year.

Off the field, they already have a champion.

Many Houston athletes stepped up in the wake of the storm, but Watt’s contributions will not soon be forgotten. The NFL got it right by naming him the Walter Payton Man of the Year. For all Watt has done on the field, he will always be remembered for his efforts off it when a city needed him the most.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Justin Verlander has been a pleasant surprise coming off Tommy John surgery. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

As baseball passes the quarter pole of the 2022 season, the Houston Astros are right where we thought they’d be - first place and overwhelming Vegas favorites to win the American League West, and holding the second-best record in the AL.

But as Jerry Garcia put it, “what a long strange trip it’s been.” This wasn’t the route baseball analysts figured for the Astros. Remember the start of the season? The Astros were returning a power-packed lineup that finished 2021’s World Series run with the top team batting average in the American League, .269. Sure, pitching might be a question mark with Justin Verlander returning from two years out with Tommy John and Lance McCullers recovering from injury.

Still the Astros figured to have enough firepower at the plate to overcome their pitching concerns. With the A’s waving a white flag on the season, the Angels likely to fade and the Mariners and Rangers headed nowhere, the rest of the Astros season is merely a formality – it’s all about getting their pitching rotation ready for the post-season and Dollar Dog Nights.

But instead of the Astros beating down opponents with offense, it’s pitching that’s propelled them to the top of the standings. Yes, he’s destined to Cooperstown, but who saw Verlander, age 39 and two years on the sidelines, at 6-1 with a crazy, shrinking 1.22 ERA. Nobody is supposed to come back from Tommy John at that age like that.

Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek, even Jake Odorizzi, are performing above expectations.

Now those awesome bashers at the plate? Let’s not pile on and exaggerate how bad they’ve been … but disappointing is putting it mildly. Historically disastrous might be closer. Let’s crunch the numbers.

Monday night the Astros batting order was: Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel, Kyle Tucker, Jeremy Pena, Jose Siri, and Martin Maldonado. You’ve got batting champs, All-Stars, an MVP, solid hitters and promising young players up and down the order.

How’s this? Every single player is hitting below his lifetime average (with the exception of rookie Pena who didn’t have a career average heading into 2022). The team batting average, .230, is 10th in the American League. That’s what you call a team slump. If anything, the Astros are not who we thought they are. It’s really a wonder they’re in first place.

Altuve is hitting 25 points below his career standard. He’s followed by Brantley (-16), Bregman (-49), Alvarez (-35), Gurriel (-67), Tucker (-29), Siri (-29), and Maldonado (-86).

That’s a collective 336 batting average points below what was expected if the Astros had just a normal year. Yeah, baseballs are kept in humidors like fine cigars this year, but the ball ain’t that dead.

Here’s an even bigger surprise, this time a happy one. Remember the citywide hand-wringing, oh what are we going to do without Carlos Correa this year? Well, rookie Jeremy Pena isn’t just sticking his finger in the dike, he’s leading the regulars with a .287 average, seven homers and 22 RBI. He’s the Astros MVP so far and has to be the leader for Rookie of the Year.

That irreplaceable guy Pena replaced? He’s batting .268 with two home runs and 14 RBI somewhere else.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome