I have a confession to make about my own journalistic bias: I have never rooted for a Houston sports team. Oh, I’ve got nothing against our state’s largest city; it’s simply a function of my birth. I was born and raised in the Dallas suburbs at a time when you watched three teams and three teams alone: the Rangers, the Mavericks, and the Cowboys (the Stars came along much, much later). My first-grade baseball team celebrated a league championship with a trip to the old Arlington Stadium, when Jim Sundberg played catcher and the great Fergie Jenkins was on the mound. My Boy Scout troop often bought tickets to see the Dallas Mavericks at Reunion Arena. But my fondest childhood memories are reserved for Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys, whom I watched cross-legged on the floor of my family’s living room. A team poster from McDonald’s hung on my bedroom wall; a Roger Staubach action figure sat on my shelf; and T-shirts, jackets, and hats filled my closet. Jeff Langston, one of my best friends in elementary school, had a “Luv Ya Blue” Houston Oilers pennant in his room, which I often studied as if it had arrived from another planet.
So how, then, am I supposed to feel about J. J. Watt, the best player in the NFL, who happens to suit up for the Houston Texans? (I am still smarting from the fact that the Texans, in their league debut, in 2002, humiliated the Cowboys on national television.) When I asked executive editor Skip Hollandsworth to spend some time with him for this month’s cover story, I knew that Skip’s situation was not that different from mine: a longtime Dallas resident, he has worshipped the Cowboys going back to the days of Don Meredith. What he learned having spent time with the six-foot-five, 289-pound superstar was that the most intense defensive end in the league also happens to be one of the kindest people in pro football. I told Skip that he wasn’t being skeptical enough—how can anyone be so talented and so gracious?—but he assured me that it was true. Watt appears to prove that nice guys can finish first. As for the rivalry, the only way that Houston and Dallas will play each other this year is if they both make it to the Super Bowl. Now that’s a matchup no native Texan could root against.