Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt has teamed up with his brothers, T.J. and Derek, to host the new show Ultimate Tag, debuting on Fox on May 20. Watt recently spoke to SI's Jimmy Traina about what we can expect from the show, the DeAndre Hopkins trade, quarantine life, The Last Dance, and much more.
SI: Given our current situation where the future is unknown, how much preseason do you need to get ready for the season? How much training camp do you need to be properly ready to start the season? On one of my recent podcasts, Chris Long told me he'd need one half of a preseason game and then one quarter of a preseason game. He's obviously retired now, but you as an active player, I'm curious what would you need for practice and preseason in order to be ready for the season.
J.J. Watt: That's a good question. You know, I've actually had multiple different experiences throughout my career. I've had preseasons where I haven't had any action. I've had a half. In 2012 I dislocated my elbow and I missed literally all of training camp. I dislocated it in the fifth or sixth practice, and I did not practice the entire training camp up until Wednesday of the first game. Now, this was 2012, obviously, so it's a different point in my career, but that season I ended up having a very good season, so you could look back and say don't need any, as long as you've been training and doing things the right way and doing what you need to be and taking care of your body. Now I've had other preseasons where I have the full preseason and didn't have my best season ever.
So I think that there's a wide range of things there. I think the one thing that you have to consider is what guys have been doing up until that point, because you're going to have a wide range of guys and what they were made available to. Some guys have incredible home gyms, full fields that they can run, they can work out, they could do everything. Some guys have been quarantining in situations where they have, you know, one set of dumbbells and a couple of bands and that's all they've had to work with. And then they go to their local park and try to get their running in. So you have to be very smart about how you do this because if you rush it and you don't have a long enough preseason for everybody to get what they need done, then you've got a chance of guys piling up with injuries, and that's not a good look for anybody. Nobody wants that. So I think it's just taking into consideration what everybody has been able to do training-wise and how you're going to be able to get them up to full speed to play a 16-game NFL season. That is not an easy task by any means.
SI: I would think you would need at least two weeks of maybe training. I don't know if you need the preseason games, but you need some sort of training camp, I would imagine.
JW: Football shape is different from training shape. Anybody will tell you that. There's two different things: You can run and you can lift as much as you want, but there's just something about when you put on those pads and you're out there doing actual football drills and playing football, it's a different type of conditioning that you need.
SI: How shocked were you with the DeAndre Hopkins trade?
JW: Anytime you have a guy like Hop, who in my opinion, has the best hands in the game and is obviously one of the top receivers of the game, it certainly catches your eye, that's for sure. It's always tough to lose a guy like that, no matter what the situation is. It's above my pay grade and it's something that obviously the team and the organization feels is in the best interest of the team. So as a player on the team, I do my job and I go to work and I play the games, and the GM and the owners, they do their job and they try and do what they feel is best for the team. And so, all I can do is show up and go to work and hope that all the guys that we have are great contributors to our team.
SI: You're a young man and I'm not trying to get to the end of your football career, but did hosting Ultimate Tag make you think at all about whether you'd want to do any broadcasting when your football career is over, or is that not something you've really ever thought about?
JW: I listen to all the opportunities that come my way. I would say it's not something that I actively pursue in any capacity. But in all different facets, whether it's business, whether it's television, movies, producing, whatever it may be, I really enjoy kind of broadening my horizons and trying to see what's out there and to see what I can stick my feet into and try and get involved in. And I've really enjoyed that. That's why this was so much fun, because it's something I haven't done before and I didn't know if I was going to love it or if I was gonna hate it. I think my brothers definitely made me a little biased towards it, but I really loved getting that opportunity to host. So it's all about having a project that you're passionate about, something that makes you excited to do it every day. And I think Ultimate Tag did that for me. And so whatever project is moving forward, uh, it has to be something that I'm passionate about.
SI: I don't want to go full psychiatrist on you, but I feel, as someone who has watched your career, covered your career from the beginning, I remember I interviewed you, I think you were a rookie, I feel like you've opened up more and more lately, especially with your brothers. We're seeing more of you ribbing your brothers, your brothers ribbing you, you guys having a lot of fun together, which I'm sure was always the case privately, but it feels like we've just seen more of it publicly. Is that an accurate assessment or do you think I'm reaching?
JW: No, I would say that's fair. As you go through a career, as you go through life, you go through different phases of it. There's learning along the way. I'm a much different person now than I was at the start of my career. That's one thing that you don't necessarily always remember is that, you think of an NFL player and you kind of know them when they come into the league and you learned a little bit about them, but then you kind of have that image set in your head and just assume that that's who they are for their whole career. And you kind of forget that these are kids going through their 20s and learning and growing and maturing and gaining life experience.
And so I think the one thing for me that's a lot different now than when I was younger: When you're younger, you're trying to just, for me personally, I know I can say I was trying to build that image of the guy who's always gonna outwork work everyone who wanted to make sure you knew that. And I think that one thing I learned throughout time is that I didn't need to make sure you knew that, it was going to show up, whether you knew it or not.
So I didn't need to continue to perpetuate that because nobody likes that in-your-face style. I still still consider myself the hardest worker and I'm putting in the same amount of work. I'm just not necessarily telling you about it every time I do it. And I also feel much more comfortable in my own skin. I feel comfortable being self-deprecating and messing around and having fun with my brothers. And it's a lot of fun to have them because all we did now is took some of our jokes that we make every day in our group chat or in our daily lives and now we share with Twitter and we show the world kind of what our personalities are like.
SI: The flip side of that is you've sort of reached this level now, sort of like the Rock and LeBron James, where anything you say, do, tweet, post on Instagram ends up becoming a story or a viral thing and it's going to be a headline all across the internet. Does that ever get annoying?
JW: Well, I appreciate that. I certainly don't put myself in the same category there, but I appreciate it. I would say that the only time you would consider it annoying is when it's something lighthearted or it's something that was meant to be fun or joyful and it's taken out of context and it, or an editor make the headline something very misleading for clicks or hot takes or whatever it is. That's the only time it's annoying. I mean, it's not necessarily annoying when it's people retweeting a tweet or a me and T.J. ripping each other for how we cook. That's fine by me. I think that the only other experience I've had with that that does get somewhat annoying was, let's say there's a tweet I tweet out, just a regular, random tweet and it gets picked up on news sites and they post about it a lot. People say, "We don't need to know about everything he does." Well, all I did was post it a tweet on my Twitter. I don't control who picks it up and what they do with it, you know what I mean? So I've been through that experience in my life, and I no longer let it bother me the way that it used to. I'll say that.
SI: I know there was once incident, because I wrote about it, where it was all meant to be a lighthearted, funny joke. You and your wife were at a game, and it became a viral clip because you were on your phone and she was shown giving the side-eye to look at your phone and people blew that up as just this funny thing that sort of every couple can relate to even though, obviously, it was probably a harmless thing that was on your phone at the time. Do you remember that one that one?
JW: Oh yeah, that back during the World Series. That's another thing that has really kind of helped me open up as well, is my wife who is obviously incredible. I'm so fortunate to have such an incredible woman by my side. We go through things every day that every other couple goes through, especially now during this quarantine. Everybody's going through the same things, whether it's dishes piling up in the thing or the laundry, who's doing what, am I in charge of dishes, you're in charge of laundry. Who's cooking?
SI: What is JJ Watt better at: cooking or laundry?
JW: From the start, I take the dishes; she takes the laundry. We made that clear. So I do hand-washing the dishes. I unload the dishwasher. When it comes to cooking, generally I'm in charge of the grill, meat, things like that. Her specialty is potatoes, pasta, vegetables. So she's in charge of that category, and we end up making a meal together between the two of us.
SI: What are the best things you've watched while we've been quarantined here?
JW: The wildest thing I watched, just like everybody, was Tiger King. That was just insane. But the best thing I've seen personally is The Great British Bake Off. I really enjoy it. I never thought I would say that, but I thoroughly enjoy The Great British Bake Off.
SI: Tell me why. What's so good about it?
JW: It's very lighthearted. It's very uplifting and positive, you know, different than reality shows here in America. The reality shows over here are all about drama and all about creating tension points and fights and things like that. The Great British Bake Off is so simple and it's the exact opposite. They don't want the drama. All they want to show is literally baking, which I mean, it's good food you get to watch on TV, but then the contestants literally root for each other and they cry when one of them leaves. It's all about positivity. You just get a positive feeling watching.
SI: Are you a Food Network guy? Do you watch a lot of Food Network?
JW: Um, I do. I do watch a little bit of Food Network.
SI: What are your shows?
JW: We kind of ran through all the episodes of Chopped. Everybody's watched Guy Fieri's Flavortown at one point or another in their lives. I watch a lot of HGTV as well. Big Chip and Joanna fan. Love Fixer Upper and excited to see what they do with their new network as well.
SI: I'm sure, like everyone, you've been consumed with The Last Dance.
JW: Of course. It's been a joy to watch it. It's unbelievable insight like we've never gotten before into Jordan and that entire team. It's been a lot of fun to watch, and it's fun to watch in today's world with Twitter where everybody kind of comments on the show as they watch. So it's really cool to sit down and watch it while having Twitter open because you can see everybody's reaction in real time.
SI: When you're watching it, do you ever say to yourself or do you ever turn to your wife or your brother and say, "I wouldn't have minded playing in the days when there were no camera phones and no Twitter and no internet?"
JW: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Just last week, I was talking about the Rodman thing. I mean he went to Las Vegas in the middle of the season when they were trying to win their sixth championship. He's 6-foot-7 with the yellow hair and is walking around with Carmen Electra in Las Vegas and there's no photos, video. I'm sure people at the time obviously knew about him and everything, but in today's world that's out in two seconds. He's going to be shamed back to Chicago. People are going to boo him when he gets back. It was a different world. I mean, the guy grabbed a Miller Lite and hopped on a Harley Davidson. You don't do that in today's world. It's a different world.
SI: If you could be quarantined with any three to five celebrities, not including your friends and family, to have spent the last six week with in your own Wisconsin house, who would you pick?
JW: Besides my wife, I don't know if I could spend six weeks with anybody in quarantine. It's not an ideal situation, but let's see here. Giannis is right down the road here. He's obviously in Milwaukee, and that will be fun to have Giannis. We can shoot some hoops and get the workouts in. That would be, that would be enjoyable. Jimmy Fallon. I love Jimmy. I think he's funny. I think he's great. He'd be a lot of fun to have in the house. That'd be a good time. Arnold Schwarzenegger. I love Arnold. I think that he would be a blast. I'd have him commentating on a lot of the stuff I was doing just because I can't get enough of Arnold's voice. I'd take Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry from the Great British Bake Off. I'd have them come in and like make all sorts of stuff, but that would be a problem because I'd get fat because I'd be eating too much sugar and so that wouldn't be great. I feel like from an entertainment standpoint, you need some sort of musician. I feel like John Legend playing the piano would be cool.
SI: Last week, I wrote a column and proclaimed that the greatest sports movie scene of all time is the scene in Swingers where they're playing NHL 93 and Vince Vaughn makes Wayne Gretzky's head bleed.
JW: I am partial to NHL 96 because I played NHL 96 growing up and was addicted to that game.
SI: Right. They play NHL 93 in the movie, and they complain that in NHL 94, they get rid of the fighting.
JW: You can't get rid of fighting a hockey game. You can't do it.
SI: In your opinion, what's the most memorable sports movie scene?
JW: Mighty Ducks 2 is my favorite movie of all time. The shoot-out against Iceland in their Junior Goodwill Games final where Gunnar Stahl does the triple deek, which doesn't even count as a triple deek because he stopped and took a slap shot at the end. He takes a slap shot and then the camera cuts to Julie Gaffney's glove, which is closed. You never see the puck go into the glove. Also, the whole crowd is dead silent until she flips the puck out of her glove, like they would have known if the puck hit the back of the net or not. I loved the movie overall, but that one scene, even as a kid I was like, that was, that was poorly made. They didn't think that all the way through.
SI: We talked earlier about you and your brothers ribbing each other. Is there anything you'd like to say or reveal here to embarrass your brothers or just one brother?
JW: It's no secret, he admits this himself, so I, I have no problem telling the world T.J. struggles reading teleprompters. The very first day that we were rehearsing for Ultimate Tag, the producers and I, we kind of locked eyes and they had a bit of a scared look in their eyes. Like, did we just make a big mistake? But to his credit, he worked on it a ton those first two days of rehearsals and throughout the show became a very, very good as a host.
SI: You're a world famous athlete, but these last six to eight weeks, we've all been in the same boat, stuck in the house. Is there anything you've learned about yourself? Has anything surprised you about yourself over the past several weeks?
JW: I think that one thing I've learned is that there are a lot of things in life that are awesome and great, but you can also do without. Just little stuff, whether it's a haircut or whether it's going to your favorite restaurant, things that you really enjoy doing. I don't know the last time I've gone two, three months without getting a haircut. I was talking to my wife about this, and she was talking about pedicures and manicures and haircuts and stuff like that. It's great and it's important, but it doesn't matter at the end of the day.
What matters is the relationships. It's the people, it's coming together. To me, that's one thing that I'm fortunate and lucky and I've realized over the last two or three months, you know, my wife and I had just got married in February. This is like the honeymoon phase where you're locked together for three months, and it's a great chance for you to learn a lot about each other and to learn a lot about yourself. And, I'm lucky to know that I have somebody with me who I'm very fortunate to be with who I love and who I appreciate. And this has only made us closer. So it's been a lot of fun from that aspect.
But I think what this thing has made me do more than anything is cherish the relationships and the people. You know, not being able to see my teammates, and I haven't been able to go see my grandma and give her a hug, you know, those relationships that you really cherish and miss and I think that's the most important thing.
SI: It is funny because if you take away the really serious life stuff, like unemployment and people losing jobs, and you look at the frivolous stuff, it is amazing that it seems like the No. 1 thing for everybody is that they miss is getting a haircut.
JW: Yeah, it's pretty wild. That is going to be interesting when this is all over. Who does the hairdresser prioritize? You're going to find out very quickly if you've been tipping well enough or not based on if they get you in the first day or if they tell you there's a month-long wait.
SI: You haven't done the thing where you've had your wife give you a trim?
JW: No. She just asked for the first time, two days ago, she asked if she could cut my hair and I put a hard no on that. I'm either gonna let it grow out or shave it all. I need a fade, but I don't trust her to give me a proper fade.
SI.com: Tell my readers what they can expect from Ultimate Tag hosted by all three Watt brothers.
JW: Ultimate Tag is just taking a childhood game that everybody knows. I mean, everybody's played tag, whether it's freeze tag, ghost in the graveyard, whatever, however you played tag as a kid, everybody knows tag. And we just took it to an extreme, ultimate level. We created this Ultimate Tag arena in Los Angeles. And we have professional taggers who have personalities and some of them are a bit crazy and psychotic and they each have their own nickname and their own mantra and what they're all about. And they're incredible athletes. And then we have amateur competitors, men and women every week come on the show who are trying to win the competition and they go against the alternate taggers and they try not to get tagged.
And it is part sport, it is extreme elite athletes all competing. There's injuries, there's people running into each other. It's high octane and then there's some fear involved. And then we have four different courses that they have to go through. There is a dome 30 feet up in the air with no harnesses. There's a giant air mattress underneath them. So there's all sorts of adrenaline and energy, excitement. And the show is just pure energy and it's a lot of fun for people, and I think it's gonna fill a void that sports kind of left behind right now. People are itching for that adrenaline, that competition. And it's also a good show for families to watch together because the parents enjoy it because of the speed and competition. But then kids also enjoy it because they play tag in their regular lives and they understand the concept, and it's simple and easy to understand. So it's fun for the whole family.
SI: How did you like hosting? How how did that for you?
JW: I enjoyed it. It was a blast hosting with my brothers because we got to enjoy the experience together, spend a ton of time together, go through the ups and downs of it together. You know, whether it was somebody struggling to read the teleprompter or somebody flubbing a line or screwing up a name, it was a lot of fun to be able to kind of give each other grief during all of that. But also experience the growth throughout it all. For me, as an older brother, it was a lot of fun to watch Derek and T.J. throughout the course of filming the show, because they just got so much better and better every day.
SI: I hope we can see bloopers and outtakes. We always love those.
JW: We are pressing hard to get Fox to give us all the bloopers because there are many, and we know that people will love them.