Beyond the Boxscore
J.J. Watt turns into a tween idol: Little girls swarm Texans star with orwithout Justin Bieber
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman may be neck-and-neck in the race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And NFL MVP for that matter.
But in terms of the tween vote, Watt is running away with it.
Few defensive players in history have changed games the way Watt and Tillman are, week after week after week. Even fewer ever became a tween idol in the process.
That list stops at one: Justin James Watt. The Milk Man from Wisconsin plays in much more than America's heartland. Watt doesn't just swat down passes, he knocks away the boundaries of typical demographics too.
"I walk out and there are a whole bunch of little girls screaming my name and I’m like, ‘Are you sure you know who I am?' You're not supposed to know me. I'm a football player."
Forget the stereotype of football fans being big-gutted slouches lying on couches. J.J. Watt is bringing in tween girls.
Watt noticed it himself when he showed up at a Justin Bieber concert (where else do you think NFL players spend their weeknights?) and received a screaming, shrieking, oh-my-God reaction that was almost worthy of Bieber himself.
"Probably the biggest surprise to me was at the concert . . . " Watt says. "I walk out and there are a whole bunch of little girls screaming my name and I’m like, ‘Are you sure you know who I am?'
You’re not supposed to know me. I’m a football player."
Oh they know, Watt. They know. Just like fantasy football freaks know Arian Foster and ninjas know Antonio Smith, tweens know J.J. Watt.
What other all-American football hunk would you want your daughter rooting for? Watt brings the pizza boy redemption story, the freakish athletic feats, the do-good attitude (he brought car crash orphans Peter and Aaron Berry to the Bieber concert, having forged a real relationship with the kids) and something of an aw-shucks I dominated another game persona.
Still CultureMap wanted more proof. Someone has to doubt J.J. Watt.
It's one thing to draw ear-piercing shouts at a Bieber concert. It's another to bring those tween fans into an NFL stadium, where sparkly signs tend to get overwhelmed by rabid passion.
Can the power of Watt defy the odds?
"When I first started looking I didn't see any girls in Watt jerseys, but once I saw the first one in butterfly wings, the floodgates opened."
We asked CultureMap photographer Michelle Watson to look for tween Watt fans during the Texans game with the Buffalo Bills and the results (seen in the photo slide show with this story) are pretty overwhelming. Tween girls love J.J. Watt. They wear his shirts like those of no other player. They hold up signs for him.
"When I first started looking I didn't see any girls in Watt jerseys — in the sea of 70,000-plus screaming fans — but once I saw the first one in butterfly wings, the floodgates opened," Watson tells us. ". . . And they seemed to be everywhere."
Yes, J.J. Watt is building an army — in ways that other NFL players don't even think of. Tweens aren't the only ones who've fallen hard for Watt, of course. As CultureMap told you last May, he's on the fast track to becoming a Craig Biggio/Jeff Bagwell icon in the city.
Little girls love sports just like anyone else. Part of this craze is a natural byproduct of Watt's overall popularity.
But it's more than that too.
"He just comes across as authentic," mom Monica Carter says of Watt. "He doesn't seem like he's trying to be something he's not. He loves football and his family. He's a real person.
"That's why I'm glad he's my girls' favorite Texan."
What other NFL player would embrace a night with Bieber and all those stage-rushing tweens? Like Tillman can compete with that. The Bears difference maker's Peanut Punch (T-shirts available now!) may be almost as good as that J.J. Swat moniker that everyone but Watt himself loves. But the Texans' 6-foot-5, 295-pound man beast has a secret weapon heading into this Super showdown of 7-1 teams in Chicago on Sunday Night Football — a whole lot of shrieking karma.
NBC's Bob Costas might be advised to break into a little "Baby, baby, baby oh" whenever Watt comes on the screen if he wants to keep an important demo back in Houston invested in the telecast.
Peanut is out of luck. What man in his right mind would dare cross an army of tween girls?