Richard Justice: J.J. Watt was both a great player and role model, and the Texans were lucky to have had him for 10 seasons.

Jan 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) walks off the field after beating the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card NFL Playoff game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Justice: J.J. Watt was both a great player and role model, and the Texans were lucky to have had him for 10 seasons.

   Looking back on J.J. Watt’s best years with the Texans, it’s impossible to overstate his greatness and the impact that greatness had on the franchise.

   We could not take our eyes off someone that played the game with a combination of power and speed, doing it all with such joy and energy. To watch him was to feel the impact of his play on games, and in that way, we became interested in the Texans in a way we hadn’t done before.

   With his announcement on Tuesday that this season will be his last, his NFL career — 10 seasons with the Texans, two with the Cardinals — can be viewed in its proper context.

   He’ll retire as one of the most dominant defensive players of his generation and someone that used his platform to make the world a bit better place.

   He raised more than $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief and founded the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which raised $6.7 million for after-school athletic programs in Wisconsin and Texas.

   Andre Johnson is the only other truly great player the Texans have had in their 21 seasons. But many of Johnson’s greatest seasons came when the Texans weren’t winning.

   By comparison, the Texans made their first playoff appearance in Watt’s rookie season. In his first nine seasons, the Texans were in the playoffs six times.

   Watt made the Pro Bowl in five of those nine seasons and was The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year three times. He led the NFL in sacks twice and tackles for losses three times.

   Watt had the brute strength to barrel through multiple defenders on one play and the speed to blow by them on the next. He ended up roaming free in opposing backfields so often that we’d rewind our televisions again and again to understand how he did it.

     He had athleticism we almost never see in someone 6-foot-5, 290 pounds. Beyond that, he was terrific on television, whether it was endorsing products or discussing a game.

   He wasn’t just a great player. He was a great player with a compelling story, having once delivered pizzas during his days at the University of Wisconsin.

   He did commercials with his entire family, all of them great on television, especially brothers Derek and T.J., both of whom are in the NFL. His best quotes would make a great TED talk.

   “Success isn’t owned; it’s leased,” he once said. “And rent is due every day. Every single day, someone’s coming for your job. Someone’s coming for your greatness. If you’re the greatest, someone wants to be the greatest, and so if you’re not constantly improving your game, somebody else is.”

   No player has ever been a more perfect Face of the Franchise, and that’s why his jersey was the one your kids wanted to wear. He’s the first and only Texan to become a true national star.

   In 2017, he was named Sports Illustrated Person of the Year and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. He was at the ESPYs often enough to feel like a regular member of the cast and was the Grand Marshal of the 2012 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Art Car Parades.

  He had a whopping 69 sacks between 2012 and 2015; then, after playing just eight games combined in 2016 and 2017, he had a huge 16-sack comeback season in 2018.

   In the first playoff game the Texans ever played, Watt introduced himself to an entire nation by returning an interception 29 yards for a score in a victory over the Bengals.

   He was even better the following week in a loss at Baltimore when he had 2½ sacks and 12 tackles (nine of them solo stops). He deflected three passes in the 2012 opener against the Dolphins.

   His 2012 season was one of the best seasons any NFL defender has ever had: 69 solo tackles, 20½ sacks, 16 passes defended, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.

   In 2013, he led the NFL with 46 quarterback hits and was second with 22 tackles for losses. He blocked two kicks that year as well.

   He was the second-fastest NFL player to reach 80.0 career sacks. Only Hall of Famer Reggie White reached 80 sacks faster than Watt (92 games versus 70 games).

   Watt made his retirement announcement on social media by posting a picture of his family, including his new three-month-old born son: “Koa’s first ever NFL game. My last ever NFL home game. My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude. It’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure.”

   “Some people chase money,” Watt once said. “Some people chase fame. Some chase greatness — and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

   In the end, he checked all those boxes and a few more.

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