J.J. Watt, Jose Altuve Lifted Houston's Spirits After City's Worst Storm Ever

The two were nominated for SI Sportsman of the Year

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Back in August of this year, the city of Houston (and much of east Texas) went through one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of the country. That’s no hyperbole, either. In some parts of Texas, as much as 61 inches of rain fell, by far a record.

Here are some of the other stats, courtesy of weather.com.

  • Still a named storm 117 hours after landfall, Harvey was the longest a Texas landfalling hurricane remained a named storm after landfall on record, according to Colorado State University tropical scientist Dr. Phil Klotzbach.
  • The areal coverage of locations picking up at least 20 inches of rain was greater than the state of West Virginia, while the 40-inch-plus zone was larger than Delaware.
  • The top rainfall total is 60.58 inches in Nederland, Texas from Aug. 24-Sep. 1. Incredibly, a second site, Groves, Texas, also topped the record book by receiving more than 60 inches during that same time period. Both of these topped the previous tropical cyclone rainfall record.
  • Rainfall total would be the heaviest from any tropical cyclone in the U.S. in records dating to 1950, topping the 48-inch storm total in Medina, Texas, from Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978, according to research by NOAA/WPC meteorologist David Roth.
  • According to Sports Illustrated, $198 billion in damage was done by Harvey.

It left many without their homes for days and weeks. Sports became an avenue for Houstonians to forget their troubles.

The Houston Astros were in the middle of a fantastic season. On their way to 100+ wins and a playoff birth, Houston rallied around their baseball team that had yet to win a World Series in their 56-year history. The message was clear, the Astros would be playing for their city more than themselves.

“Houston Strong” became the mantra, and Houston was strong.

The Houston Texans were just about to begin their season that was starting with some promise as well. They traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to take electric quarterback DeShaun Watson. He would end up taking over the starting job after halftime of the first week and gave the city even more reason to forget their troubles.

But J.J. Watt was having the most impact off the field.

What started as a small idea to start a fundraising campaign on the site YouCaring.com turned into something not even Watt expected.

From the SI article:

While Watt’s teammates phoned loved ones back in Houston, some of them stranded in houses that were quickly taking on water, the four-time All-Pro defensive lineman signed up for an account on the fund-raising site ​YouCaring.com, wrote up a short description of a relief fund and sent the link over to Amy Palcic, the Texans’ head of media relations. The text thread that kicked it all off: “I think I’ll just start this campaign and then others hopefully join in on it. This is going to be the page.”

On Sunday, Watt posted the link to his various social media platforms, where his reach is among the largest in football, and in the initial push contributions overwhelmed YouCaring.com’s bandwidth, crashing the site.

The social media outcry of support was deafening, and the donations began pouring in faster than Harvey’s rainfall. From children wanting to give even the smallest amounts to their fathers to donate, to them collecting soda cans and doing extra chores to earn more to donate, to Watt’s mother organizing food and supplies from Pawaukee, Wisconsin and local farmers and truckers willing to drive a convoy of 18-wheelers to Houston, the impact was miraculous.

“During a time like that, you learn so much about how the world is bigger than just the bubble you live in,” Watt says. “We always see these events on TV—a storm in Puerto Rico or Hurricane Katrina—and you feel terrible. You want to help. But there’s an entirely new level of heightened awareness when it’s your city, when you actually see the houses. It’s real. That will change you forever. That’s what we experienced. It’s an angle I didn’t even really contemplate fully until now.”

In total, Watt’s fund raised $37 million before he closed the door on donations and decided to lead the efforts on where the money would go. The city of Houston will forever be indebted to Watt, although you can bet your bottom dollar he’s not going to collect on that debt. It’s the character of Watt that makes him so endearing, and why it makes so much sense he is SI’s Sportsman of the Year.

He’s not the only recipient of the award, however. The other person Sports Illustrated decided to honor is Watt’s Astros superstar counterpart, Jose Altuve.

The Astros finished the magical season that Harvey disrupted by winning the World Series in spectacular fashion. The playoff run started with a historic night from Altuve in which he hit three home runs in the same game, a feat previously accomplished only by those with names etched in baseball history.

Altuve would continue to get timely hit after timely hit, including a home run in extra innings in a Game 2 win, and a three-run blast that tied a wild Game 5 that the Astros would also ultimately win. As fate would have it, Altuve calmly recorded the final out in Game 7, retrieving a ground ball deep in right field due to an infield shift. A better microcosm of the Astros’ season you couldn’t script for the final out.

Altuve’s story is well told. His journey from being told not to come back to an Astros tryout in Venezuela to leading the Astros to a World Series title, all the while winning the American League MVP and batting title in 2017, is a beacon guiding Houstonians back to normalcy. While people were picking up the pieces of their lives, both literally and figuratively, they were given a glorious distraction in the form of the city’s first major championship since ’95 and the franchise’s first World Series ever.

Houston’s resiliency mirrors that of Altuve, he of the 5’6”, 165 pound stature. Watt is larger than life in every sense of the word — simply walking by him you would wonder if he is a pro athlete. While Altuve doesn’t look the part, he makes up for it with unwavering work ethic and positivity. Both of which combine for a necessary message Houston needed to hear.

J.J. Watt gave Houston real relief in the form of his fund. Jose Altuve gave it a reason to forget the troubles in a most troublesome time. Both are Houston to their core and very deserving of this award.

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