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TJ Watt was not quite sure what was going on when his brother JJ was pulled aside at the YouTube Theater in Los Angeles on Thursday due to a problem with his ticket.
The oldest Watt brother was supposed to sit with the rest of the Watt clan on the front rows of the NFL Honors ceremony, but suddenly he was gone.
A few minutes later, however, he reappeared on stage next to pop star Katy Perry to present the night’s first prize: Defender of the Year.
Even then, the reality of what was happening did not occur to TJ
As the pair read out the finalists for the NFL’s top defensive honor, the Pittsburgh Steelers star-edge rusher held his breath. He had been there before, a finalist two other times, only to finish outside first place. Just a year ago, I heard Aaron Donald’s name called over his, despite an NFL best 15 sacks.
This time, though, it was different. This time, his brother tapped the Microsoft Surface Tablet and smiled as he read the name illuminated in front of him. Then he looked up and made eye contact with his youngest brother and announced him as the AP’s Defender of the Year.
“I’ve been to that awards show where I thought I had a really good chance of getting my name called and you have the butterflies that, okay, it could happen,” TJ told ESPN. “And it obviously did not sometimes. So right up until my name was called, that was when I could finally breathe out and breathe and then have to hold my breath again to give a speech again.”
JJ greeted his brother on stage with a huge embrace, which calmed TJ’s nerves.
“He and I both know all the work that has gone into it,” TJ said. “I’ve seen him get that award three times, and being able to be up there and even have that award, it was a very surreal moment. I’m not a big public speaker, so that embrace certainly calmed my nerves a bit and definitely helped me. Which is basically the essence of our relationship. ”
The eldest Watt has long been a champion for the youngest, motivating him by setting a success course for TJ to follow. And with TJ’s first defender at this year’s award, he’s starting to catch up on some of JJ’s hardware. He is also finding his way to the record book after setting Michael Strahan’s single-season record with 22.5 sacks.
“I feel like I’m just about to enter the top of my career,” TJ said. “… I just want to continue to be the guy that the other team has to account for and continue to develop my leadership role with the team and try to be as consistent as possible.
“The hardest thing about the NFL is that anyone can have a great game at this point. It’s just about putting together a band of great games.”
To put together the great matches, TJ trains with JJ and middle brother Derek, a fullback for the Steelers, in hindsight.
A year ago, the trio went viral on social media when they ended one of their workouts in rural Wisconsin with an ice bath in a frozen lake and a wrong run to a portable sauna raised by one of JJ’s former teammates, Brian Peters.
“The actual water was not much colder than a typical ice bath. But once you got out and walked through the snow, it felt like you were walking with needles on your feet. That was the worst thing. “
In this offseason, however, TJ is not sure he will come back in a frozen lake. And if he does, it’s likely he won’t post it on social media either. In the late 2021 season, TJ participated in a social media detox sponsored by Six Star Pro Nutrition. He and a handful of his teammates committed to being smaller on their phones, and that’s something TJ is still trying to maintain in the offseason.
“I think it’s just one of those things that you just always take your phone, want to do something,” TJ said. “It’s just gotten weird sitting there and doing nothing, but in reality, it’s more important to just sit there and have real conversations.”
He also spends the extra time away from his phone to help his fiance Dani Rhodes, a professional footballer, plan their upcoming wedding, which is to take place out of season.
After that, however, he will summarize his training around the clock.
Congratulations to my guy TJ Watt. You are proof that preparation and hard work pay off. This year’s defender looks good on you.
– Mike Tomlin (@CoachTomlin) February 11, 2022
This year will be more normal, he said, with the drama of contract negotiations by the way. While the two sides printed out the details of the contract, TJ sat out team periods in training camp, but he was still working on individual reps to the side. Still, it was hard for TJ to see from the sidelines.
“If there was anything, it made me want to train harder,” TJ said.
Just before the season opener in 2021, TJ signed a deal that made him the NFL’s highest paid defender. In return, he proved his worth by equaling Strahan’s single-season sack record despite missing nearly four games with injuries.
But that’s just a springboard for next season.
“I approach football very personally and I dedicate my life to being the best football player I can ever be, the best teammate I can be,” said TJ. “And I know there will always be room for improvement. I’ll never get to the levels I want, but I’ll give it all I can.”