The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider

Watt, Fertitta headline Houston honorees

Tilman Fertitta made the Fertitta Center a reality. Houston Cougars Men's Hoops Facebook

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One is Houston's Captain America. The other is a visionary businessman who makes things happen.

And, not coincidentally, they are two of the biggest names in Houston sports.

Yes, we're talking J.J. Watt and Tilman Fertitta – two men who make things happen; two men who are being honored with Legacy Awards February 6 at the Houston Sports Awards presented by Insperity.

Watt, the Houston Texans all-everything defensive end is being honored with the Sportsmanship Award for the second year, while Fertitta, the Houston Rockets owner, will receive the Executive of the Year Award presented by Mercedes-Benz Dealers of Greater Houston. They join the late President George H.W. and wife Barbara Bush as the three Legacy Award winners. The Bushes will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Watt, the Houston Texans all-everything defensive end, has captivated the nation and become as dominant off the field as he is on it with his commitment to giving back to the Houston area.

What started with a YouCaringFund that raised $41.6 million for Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017 and continued through 2018 when he offered to pay for the funerals of the 10 victims of the Santa Fe High school shooting has become a career-defining commitment for the NFL's 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year. Watt's generosity and compassion set the tone for others to follow as the entire area – teams, athletes and individuals -- reached out to help and support the Santa Fe community.

Last year he cancelled his annual J.J. Watt Charity Classic to focus on hurricane relief efforts but announced it would return in May of 2019.

His charitable side is matched only by his relentlessness on the field. The 29-year-old Pro Bowler and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year played just eight games in two seasons because of a broken leg, a herniated disk and two surgeries. This year, he has has stepped back onto the field as the heart of the Texans defense and has been such a force, he's mentioned as a Player of the Year candidate.

He's the NFL's all-time leader in sacks per game, averaging 0.89 per contest, edging out the late Hall of Famer Reggie White (0.85).

Fertitta has been a force in real estate and restaurants for decades, but his vision and business savvy have also made a huge impact on Houston sports. In his first season as Rockets owner, Fertitta saw his team win a regular-season team record 65 games and advance to the Western Conference Finals where they lost in Game 7 to the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors. During the season, Fertitta worked to involve the entire community with the team and impacted the Houston sports scene.

As Chairman of the UH System Board of Regents, he has been instrumental in a campaign to modernize UH's athletic facilities. Fertitta's $20 million gift to the University of Houston – the single largest individual donation in UH history – helped transform Hofheinz Pavilion, now Fertitta Center, into a modern 7,100-seat arena. The opening of the Center was a two-night affair with an invitation-only ceremony November 29 followed by the UH-Oregon basketball game December 1. The Cougars upset then-18th-ranked Oregon 65-61. The opening is one of the nominees for Event of the Year.

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority also announced the finalists for six other awards Thursday.

Olympic gold medalist and four-time World Champion Simone Biles, Rockets guard and 2018 MVP James Harden, Astros' third baseman Alex Bregman and Texans' wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins are the nominees for Athlete of the Year, while 2018 Outland Trophy winner Ed Oliver and UH teammate D'Eriq King, former UH guard Rob Gray and Texas A&M;'s Trayveon Williams are the nominees for College Athlete of the Year.

Coach of the Year nominees are Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, UH basketball coach Kelvin Sampson and Texans' coach Bill O'Brien. Moment of the year nominees are the Opening of Fertitta Center, Rodeo Houston, the Texans' Monday Night Football win over Tennessee/Celebration of late owner Bob McNair, and the NBA Western Conference Finals.

Hopkins' spin catch against the Dallas Cowboys, Biles' World Championship, Santa Fe High's first 2018 football game and the Houston Dynamo winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are nominees for Moment of the Year.

St. Pius X quarterback Grant Gunnell, Woodlands track and field/football graduate Kesean Carter, Cy Ranch volleyball and wrestling star Kaitlyn Banas and Cy Woods Volleyball and basketball star Cate Reese are the High School Athlete of the Year nominees.

# # #

Looking for a Christmas gift for a Houston sports fan in your life? Consider buying him or her a ticket for the 2019 Houston Sports Awards Golden Ticket Raffle.

There are only 500 tickets available and the winner will take home a pair of season tickets to all Houston Astros, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo, Houston Dash and Rodeo Houston home games/events during the 2019-20 season. The winner will also receive tickets to two Texans home games and to the Academy Sports + Outdoors 2019 Texas Bowl.

Raffle tickets can be purchased for $100 per ticket and that enters you into the drawing for all the above-mentioned tickets.

All proceeds from Golden Ticket sales benefit Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Foundation and the winner of drawn at the Houston Sports Awards. Winners do not need to be present to win. To enter go to https://houstonsportsawards.com/golden-ticket-raffle/

J.J. Watt is headed for illustrious but strange company

Maximize opportunity before Watt gets wasted

Houstontexans.com

Thursday the reality of what J.J. Watt is facing really hit me. The Houston Chronicle reported Watt had a minor offseason knee surgery. The last three years prove he's far from immortal, though the once incredible career is back on track. For how long, no one knows. Then I finally realized it.

J.J. Watt is on pace to be the greatest defensive player to never play for a conference championship or a Super Bowl.

I started digging into the lists of the all-time great defenders and the best pass rushers in the game's history. Most of the players who would easily be considered a great on defense have at the very least won a Lombardi. If they haven't won the big trophy they've either played or been one game away.

Two names stick out on the all-time greats list. Deacon Jones played three postseason games all in the divisional round. Dick Butkus never played in the postseason. You have to go to 24th all-time in sacks, Pat Swilling with 107.5, to find a sack leader who hasn't at least played in a conference championship or better.

It's a line on almost every great's resume and Watt's missing it.

Watt's only 30 sacks away from the top 20 in career sacks. His three defensive player of the year awards in four years cemented an era of dominance rarely matched in NFL history. He will put on the gold jacket one day. It would be bittersweet to find himself among those greats having never played in a game with that level of importance.

Unless he plays in one.

Brian Gaine and Bill O'Brien can't mess this up or they will be accessories to a sports crime: cementing Watt's place as the all-time great without a huge game to his name. The Texans enter one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. They have to find a way to protect Deshaun Watson as he's the key to making sure Watt's schedule pushes beyond 16 games each year. It's no easy task, but go do it. Make the defense's job just a little easier with some powerful offense.

Give Watt and company just a second more too with better secondary play. Help him out with a better pass rush next to him and not just opposite him. There's so many things the Texans have to get right with their massive cap space and three picks in the top two rounds.

It won't all be Gaine and O'Brien's fault if they don't do it, however they have a chance, with Watson and the rest of this team, to make sure a truly significant game appears on the schedule for Watt. Just one conference championship appearance, then, who knows. Maybe the big one and the Lombardi trophy.

Now here's a thought that will shake all Texans fans.

If the Texans don't nail it this offseason and show the next few seasons they're not legit threats, maybe Watt fills the hole in his distinguished career elsewhere. Reggie White left in his 30's. DeMarcus Ware found glory with the Broncos after a long Cowboys career. It isn't unheard of to see one franchise's legend don another team's colors.

I'm not sure what would hurt Texans fans more. Knowing Watt never played in the biggest games with the Texans or seeing him get to one of those games with another team. It's the hope neither of those things happen. There are almost never happy endings in football, but Watt's story deserves one or more of those chapters.

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