JJ Watt gave a tearful farewell to football as the Arizona Cardinals defensive end was given a standing ovation from supporters with a few minutes remaining in his team’s game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
The 33-year-old announced on December 27 that he was stepping away from the game, three months after he went into atrial fibrillation, requiring his heart to be shocked back into rhythm. He departed the field in the final moments of the Cardinals’ game with the 49ers on Sunday, with his Arizona team losing 38-18.
Watt bows out as one of the better defensive ends in NFL. A five-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro, Watt is the only NFL player ever to record multiple 20-sack seasons, both of which came during his decade with the Houston Texans. He’s played the last two seasons with the Cardinals.
And the magnitude of leaving the game was not lost on Watt or his wife, Kealia, who was also tearful as the defensive end soaked up a huge ovation at the Levi’s Stadium. Taking to Twitter on Sunday evening, Watt wrote: ‘Sometime in the coming days I’ll find the right words. ‘But for right now, all I can say is thank you. You’ve changed my life forever and I am perpetually grateful.’
Watt was also named the 2017 recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, due to his well-known philanthropical endeavors. He helped raise $37 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, and offered to pay the funeral costs for victims’ families following mass shootings.
Speaking Friday before his final game, Watt said: ‘I think part of it was I also wanted to be able to say thank you to everybody who’s helped me and everybody around here. If you wait until the middle of the offseason to do it, I don’t get to properly go around this building because nobody knows.
Watt’s charity, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, provides after-school activities in several communities, giving children a safe place to be involved with athletics. Most of the schools in the program are located in Texas, where he played for a decade, his native Wisconsin, as well as Alabama, Illinois, and California.
Watt revealed a heart issue in October, saying he had gone into atrial fibrillation on September 29 and needed to have his heart shocked back into rhythm. He also revealed that he made the disclosure because the information was about to be leaked.
‘I don’t want it to be some big secret. I want to be able to when I leave this building shake all these people’s hands and say thank you. ‘I want to be able to on my last game say thank you to everybody and just give that appreciation. That’s been a nice part is I’m able to properly say thank you to everybody.’