We tell our kids that defense is what matters most in sports. It’s where the best athletes go. It’s what wins championships. But it’s not just about glory; it’s about something bigger. Selflessness. Pride. Sacrifice.
In other words, when it comes to talking to our kids, we are a bunch of dirty liars. We should be sent to our rooms. Oh, defense probably mattered once upon a time, but these days, the guys on the other side of the ball get all the love – and all the spoils (fame, money, more money) that come along with it.
Which brings me to J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans. The guy is a freak, and I feel comfortable saying that because 1) He is; and 2) He doesn’t know where I live.
Watt is the best player in the NFL. By far. Defense is nearly dead in football, but tune in on a weekly basis, and you’ll see Watt winning games from the wrong side of the ball. Sure, he also has more touchdown receptions this season than Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Wes Welker, but that belies my point. Watt is breaking the rules of modern football physics.
The narrative of this season is about Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback who, it turns out, will probably go down as one of the greatest players of all time. He’s having a remarkable year, but know this: Nearly every rule in football is designed to limit defenses and keep the touchdowns coming, so TV audiences keep watching and advertisers keep advertising. Defenders cannot hit a quarterback high, low or while he’s sliding. They can’t hit a receiver while he’s in the air jumping for the ball. Can’t put their hands in front of a receiver’s face. Soon, it would not be shocking if the league made it illegal to hit a quarterback while he’s blinking.
There are so many rules in place that it makes what Watt is doing historic, too. Rodgers is completing passes the way a dad and son do it the backyard – with no one stopping them. Watt lines up against five 350-pound linemen and a massive rulebook on every single down. There have been plenty of great defensive players in the NFL, but none of them had their hands tied behind their backs from the moment the ball was snapped.
As a result, this could be the best year a defensive player has ever had. In 14 games, Watt has 64 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 43 quarterback hits, five fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and an interception. In addition to those three receiving touchdowns, he also took that interception and a fumble to the house, giving him five scores on the season. Yet Watt is not going to win the league’s MVP award. Rodgers is. Watt deserves it. But no defender has won it since 1986.
Watt tries to stay out of the argument about the MVP, preferring to let his play on the field speak for itself. That’s made him a saving grace for the NFL this season – when off-field issues defined and depreciated the game. Yet there have been moments where he makes his personal feelings known. Just ask Tennessee quarterback Zach Mettenberger. When the rookie found out he was going start against Houston, he sent out selfies. The last one went up roughly 90 minutes before kickoff.
That was like tugging on Superman’s cape.
Watt sacked Mettenberger twice during the game, and after the second one, he leaned over his fallen opponent and pretended to take a photo. Afterward, Watt explained: “Their quarterback posted a few selfies this week, including one before the game. It’s just a reminder. This is the National Football League, not high school. So welcome to the show.”
It was a protest against a guy grabbing for headlines he hadn’t earned – you can only do that on offense – and a statement for defenders everywhere, the guys that play for the team and not attention. Watt has been making that statement all year. And while you don’t want to see anyone get hurt, admit it: There was something satisfying about seeing him crush Mettenberger over those selfies.
Because, at some point, people have to get sick of watching Rodgers play pitch-and-catch with his receivers, right? Am I the only one who misses hard-nosed football, and hopes the NFL loosens the restraints on defensive players?
It is time to give the MVP to a defensive player. Even if you question whether a team that isn’t going to the playoffs can really have the most valuable player, you’ve got to admit that, against all odds, J.J. Watt has turned in one monster of a season – a campaign worthy of the league’s highest individual honor.
Whatever the logical reasons are for a quarterback to get it, just throw those out and give the award to the guy who breaks the laws of football physics. Give it to the NFL’s sole superhero. At the very least, do it to stop lying to your kids.