The NFL's Pro Bowl is often forgotten before it's even over. For good reason.
J.J. Watt's hilarious — and original — surfing sack celebration isn't going to change that. Watt had the moment of the NFL's all-star party for the second straight year (remember his bloody show in the 2013 game when he briefly played tight end?) — and the sports world mostly yawned at the Houston Texans star. Peyton Manning and Richard Sherman demand all the headlines and they'll monopolize America's attention on the Sunday that really matters.
Watt's ignored star turn in a glorified exhibition is more important than many realize though. It's not his post-sack drop and crawl through the Hawaiian grass (to simulate paddling out to surf) followed by that jump up onto an imaginary surfboard that's guaranteed to have staying power though. No, as great as the sack celebration was, it's a footnote compared to the real story.
J.J. Watt is having fun playing football again.
As great as the sack celebration was, it's a footnote compared to the real story.
Considering the 24-year-old Watt seemed to be the most tortured man in America during the Texans plummet into that 2-14 death spiral of a season — telling reporters again and again that he could only control his own play — this is no small revelation. It's easy to picture Watt being revitalized by new coach of Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Watt's play on the field didn't really suffer as the Texans imploded around him, but O'Brien's team-above-all approach is likely to demand more of No. 99 on the leadership level. Can you imagine Tom Brady ever saying all he can worry about is his own play?
The defensive end clearly was a leader in Honolulu. Watt's own relentless intensity helped trigger the marked overall increase. He seemed to be coming on every play — and never seemed to take a play off. In the Pro Bowl.
He finished with that sack, two other quarterback hits and two passes batted down. Watt didn't win the game's Defensive MVP award, but it's hard to argue he wasn't the most disruptive player on the field.
It sounds crazy, but this is the kind of performance that can carry over into a new season. Yes, it's only the damn Pro Bowl. But Texans quarterback Matt Schaub put up one of the worst Pro Bowl performances of all time last January and his resulting 2013 season followed right along the same lines.
This can be a springboard to another monster season for Watt. No one is thinking about Watt or the Texans in Manhattan or New Jersey this Sunday, but this is when the foundation for which teams will be in Arizona for the big game on Feb. 1, 2015 start getting set. It's never too early to establish a tone.
Schaub put up one of the worst Pro Bowl performances of all time last January and his resulting 2013 season followed the same lines.
On a stage with the rest of the best players in the NFL — or at least the ones not playing in the Super Bowl — J.J. Watt still stands out. Before long, he could be mentoring another once in a generation defensive talent in Jadeveon Clowney (a physical force from Texans owner Bob McNair's favorite South Carolina.) Selecting Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft would clearly thrust J.J. Watt into a leadership role.
Which wouldn't be a bad thing. Watt's intensity undoubtedly affected other all-star caliber defensive players at the Pro Bowl. He's ready for the next level.
Another development from Super Bowl weekend is also likely to leave the Texans star with even more motivation. Only receiving two votes for the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year is sure to fuel Watt, who won the award in 2012 and pulled it up with another spectacular individual season. Yet, only two votes. What gives? Likely a rage. Any slight or snub fuels J.J. Watt.
It's still a long, long way to mini camp — let alone the season opener on Sept. 7. But one Texan is already driving ahead. And he'll be bringing plenty of others (particularly quarterbacks) swimming into the grass with him.