PLANO, Texas — The first thing J.J. Watt plans to do when he gets home to Houston is hug his girlfriend. Then the Texans’ defensive end will begin the work of recovery in a city ravaged this week by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The Texans had been diverted to Dallas after their preseason game in New Orleans when Harvey struck land over the weekend, dumping up to 50 inches of rain on southeast Texas and producing flooding that has taken the lives of at least 31 people and left tens of thousands more seeking shelter.
In the meantime, Watt has raised more than $6 million in hurricane relief funds, after blowing away the original stated goal of $200,000. Now he’s made a new goal: $10 million. “Because everything’s bigger in Texas,” he said on Wednesday afternoon, outside the Renaissance hotel in Plano, near where they practiced this week at the Star, the Cowboys’ facility in Frisco.
Texans players were notified on Wednesday morning that the preseason game against the Cowboys scheduled for Thursday and relocated from Houston to Arlington, would be canceled, and they would be heading home at 1 p.m. Central time. Watt said players responded with subdued joy, understanding the gravity of the situation facing Houston and eager to see their family members, some of whom have been displaced by the storm. “Everybody’s been asking me how they can help,” Watt said. “Everybody’s been asking me what they can do. I think we’re just excited to be with our city and help our city rebuild.”
General manager Rick Smith explained that the team had been in communication with local authorities between Dallas and Houston, and only today did those authorities determine that there was a clear route to travel from Dallas to NRG Stadium on roads uncompromised by floodwaters. The Texans’ stadium has been set up as a staging area for volunteers, with reports of some being turned away due to the sheer numbers of people who had come offering to help. “We didn’t have the option to get the team home safely until today,” Smith said. “So when it became available to us, we’ve got so many guys who are distracted by the events and circumstances at home that it became increasingly morally difficult to ask those guys to go out and play a football game.” The Texans held training camp in West Virginia, and with the disruption of Harvey, most players have been home for only a few days since late July.
For Watt and other teammates who have pledged their time and resources, the focus has been on organizing a large network of contributors to the relief fund who have pledged supplies including semi trucks, food, water, clothing and generators. The plan as of Wednesday is to assemble those trucks filled with supplies at various locations around the greater Houston area, with players handing out supplies to displaced residents. “It’s been extremely difficult to watch, but it’s also been unbelievably motivational, to see firefighters, police and everyday citizens out in boats helping each other out and lifting each other up,” Watt said. “The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity, and that’s what we are seeing right now. It’s incredible to witness.”
Watt encouraged people to continue donating, and stressed that the process of recovery in Houston would take many months. In the meantime, the Texans are 11 days away from a season opener against the Jaguars, scheduled for Sept. 10 at NRG. Rick Smith said that as of now, the plan remains to play the game as scheduled.
Smith and Watt spoke over the hum of engines as Texans players and staff filed onto buses bound for Houston. They left at 1:05 for what is normally a three-and-a-half hour drive, back to a city in crisis.
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