HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – JJ Watt has been busy over the last ten days as a social media campaign he began with hopes to raise $200,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief metastasized into a global phenomenon to accumulate over $27 million and counting to help the victims of one of the most devastating natural disasters in US history.
Watt has received donations from Ellen Degeneres, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in the last 24 hours received and additional $1 million from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and $5 million from Charles Butt and the HEB grocery chain.
Watt, who accepted the $5 million check from HEB President Scott McClelland Wednesday, has been blown away by all the celebrity donations and learns of the generosity sometimes out of the blue.
“I found out like everybody else did, and then, obviously, we got the $1 million donation in and I’m actually – I have to reach out to him here today and thank him for it because I watched the video and saw the choir. It’s incredible,” Watt said when asked when he learned about the donation from Jimmy Fallon, “To see somebody like Jimmy Fallon, to see somebody like Ellen (DeGeneres), to see all these insane contributions from people, it’s really heartwarming and it’s also just an incredible, incredible gesture.
Watt had become the face of professional sports in Houston over the last several years as three-time defensive player of the year and a national spokesperson for products like Reebok and Gatorade. However, in the last several weeks he’s become the face of the relief efforts of the city of Houston with this campaign.
Watt has become Houston’s favorite son now, which is a long ways away from how he started his career after being the team’s first round pick in 2011.
“When they booed me on draft night, I don’t know if I saw it going this way,” Watt joked at a press conference on Wednesday. But, I think that over the course of the years and just the love that I have developed for this city and the family atmosphere that I feel, I feel like it’s one big family, especially at a time like this.”
With the regular season underway Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Watt will now have to turn his attention to football, which has been difficult. Watt mentioned he has had to balance his time more efficiently to the point where he has to put his phone on airplane mode once he enters NRG Stadium for practice.
Sunday will be special for Watt on two different fronts. The most obvious is that it will be the first Texans game in Houston since the devastation of Harvey, but for Watt it will be his first game back since missing the final 13 games of last season with a back injury.
The Texans dedicated their season to the city of Houston and all those affected by Harvey, but as they take the field for the first time Sunday, it will be the first chance to show that dedication.
“It’s going to be special. This is so much bigger than a game, but for three hours on Sunday, we want to take people’s minds off of everything that just happened,” Watt said. “We want to give them an escape from everything that just happened, so I know for a fact that our guys are going to give every single thing that we have to make sure that we put a smile on this city’s face and give them something to cheer about for three hours.”
Alex Del Barrio covers the Houston Texans for Sportsradio610.com and is the color commentator for the Houston Dynamo. He also hosts “ADB and Murph” with Matt Murphy which can be heard on Saturday afternoons 4-7 pm Follow Alex Del Barrio on Twitter: @alexdelbarrio