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The 7 Labors of JJ Watt

The Arizona Cardinals defensive end leaves a lasting legacy in the NFL

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the most exciting days of my seven decades of Cardinals’ fandom was the day that JJ Watt announced via social media that he was signing to contend for a Super Bowl in Arizona.

The 7 Labors of JJ Watt:

Labor 1: Win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year 3 Times

Labor 2: Join Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald as the only NFL players to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Labor 3: Achieve Top 1-4 Statistics Over the Span of his Career in Sacks QB Hits, Tackles for Loss, Forced Fumbles and Fumble Recoveries.

Labor 4: Win the NFL’s Walter Payton Award for Exemplary Philanthropy

(as Suz suggests, do yourself a favor and watch this speech)

Labor 5: Deliver one of the all-time most inspirational messages to teammates and NFL players across the league about how to treat and honor their jobs as a privilege.

Labor 6: Help lead the Arizona Cardinals to a stunning 7-0 start in 2021, and then after a severe shoulder injury in Week 7, perform one of the most heroic rehabs of all time, by returning to play in the Cardinals first playoff game since 2015.

Labor 7: Help the Cardinals forge trough one of the most difficult seasons in team history, by leaving a legacy of extraordinary leadership on the field, off the field and in interacting with the team’s fans, in spite of a tachycardia scare and wanting to be the best husband and dad possible for Kealia and sweet baby Koa James.

Sweet Baby Koa James Watt:

“Home is where the heart is.”

“It’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure.”

Textbook JJ Watt:

Being 100% there for the fans:

Being an inspiration to kids:

Message to JJ:

You are astonishing in every possible way — as a ferocious competitor on the football field, as a devoted family man and as the consummate humanitarian.

Even though you have only played in Arizona for two years, I believe that the legacy you are leaving here is going to have a lasting impact for years and decades to come.

From day one, you embraced the history of the Cardinals, particularly in stopping by Pat Tillman’s locker each day to pay your respects to him and his family.

You went out and mingled with the fans in order to try to galvanize us in a common spirit. You, as much as any NFL player I have ever rooted for, understands how vital it is to interact and communicate with the fans.

Inside the Cardinals’ facilities you created a second home for yourself. You made the weight room your den. I could sense from day one that you tried to turn the Cardinals’ “Country Club” into your own version of “Gold’s Gym.”

While this transformation was going to take more than two years in order to get the vast majority of the players to buy in, your work ethic and love for physical and mental training is alive and well in the hearts of those who repped by your side every day.

Your comeback from a totally ripped out shoulder last season, which you incurred on one of your patented all-out hustle plays, by diving hard to swing at the ankles of a scrambling QB, was the most inspirational achievement I have ever seen in all my years of being a football fan.

After the ugly blowout loss to the Rams, the only comfort I felt was elicited by the sheer honesty you displayed in your message to the team and the fans.

And then, the coup de gras, was learning that the day after the exit interviews when virtually every other player had left the premises, you went to the facility to resume your training.

Mere hours after the season had come to an abrupt and tumultuous halt, you had your off-season training regimen all mapped out, training five days a week and taking two weeks off, one, to vacation with your wife, and the second, to join your family at your brother’s T.J.’s wedding.

Well, Captain, your off-season dedication is paying off big-time, because you are leaving the game you love at the top of your game. You are doing what you have always done —- leaving every ounce of perspiration you have out on that field while leaving opposing offenses in disarray.

With great pride, you will always be able to show Koa these highlights of your last season and of the first game your son ever attended.

You are playing by the highest of standards, despite your team having one of the worst records in the NFL.

Talk about making the words and the music match.

Here is what you had to say to the team at the end of the Friday practice before heading to Denver (a game in which you would wreak havoc to the point delivering 3 sacks and a forced fumble):

“OK now is about a test of —- how you are as a professional —- and how you are as a man. We’re out of the playoffs and we are not where we want to be. Who are you when the shit and the cards are against you? What type of guy are you? Are you skipping lifts? You showing up late? Are you blowing off meetings? Or are you still doing what you need to do as a professional and a as a man? Take care of your business. Be a professional, Be a man. Be accountable to your teammates. We are out here still trying to win football games. Cards on three, one, two, three: CARDS.”

Most veteran NFL players are weakened by “time and fate”, as poet Alfred Lord Tennyson would say. But, not you, JJ Watt. By your own words, you are still bring “THE JUICE.”

Your teammates who have been feeding of your JUICE have begun to join you in creating “one equal temper of heroic hearts.”

And speaking of heroic always keep a special place in your heart for those devastated by human tragedies. You reach out to them, most of whom are complete strangers and you offer to lend your personal and financial support. You selflessly do this time and time again for hurricane victims and for families that have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Your radar for helping others is always on high alert.

As a high school teacher for almost 40 years, I always tried to inspire the students to offer their appreciation to the unsung and often under-estimated employees on the cafeteria and maintenance staffs who take such ardent pride in their work for the sake of making our daily lives more comfortable and convenient.

Therefore, JJ, when you delivered this recent pitch to your teammates, I knew how special a gesture, at the holidays, this was on your part. You made certain that all of the employees in the building feel respected and honored to be a part of the entire team. Your message;

“People take care of us every single day. People wash our clothes, people cook our food, people clean up after us, janitors, we want to try to take care of those people, so please take it seriously. Just think about all of the shit that we don’t have to do, because these people do it for us. They are unloading the planes for us at 3 am back from Mexico, they are cleaning our shit so it’s ready for the next day. Think of all the money that we get to make because they help us.”

JJ Watt, you sure pay attention. And you honor people with the greatest gifts of all: love, kindness and respect.

As a fan, I cannot thank you enough, JJ. For believing in all of us. And for never quitting on us. And most of all, for putting hope in our hearts, especially during the numerous occasions this season that have been the toughest to swallow.

With you in the building these past two years JJ, I feel as if the spirit of Pat Tillman is alive and well. But, it’s not just Pat’s spirit, it’s the spirit of every baller who walked through the doors while pledging, as you have, to turn a perennial underdog into a winner.

The Cardinals’ organization, coaches, players and the fans now have the responsibility to follow in your footprints.

From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life”:

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

Best wishes, always to you, Kealia, Koa and your family, JJ. Godspeed, Hercules.