HOUSTON - Texans rookie defensive end J.J. Watt had been the epitome of excellence well before the combination of large hands, fortuitous timing, underrated athleticism and a captive television audience worked wonders for his modest national profile.
With his 29-yard interception return for a touchdown last Saturday against the Bengals, Watt became the sixth defensive lineman in NFL postseason history to return an interception for a score. That play of individual wonderment vaulted the Texans into the lead in the waning seconds of the first half of an AFC wild card game they would ultimately win, and injected Watt into the dialogue of memorable playoff moments.
While the rarity of his achievement cemented Watt into the public consciousness, it merely confirmed what his teammates knew all along: Watt is supremely talented. However, their advance knowledge of his capabilities didn't prevent them from bestowing upon a Watt a moniker to commemorate his effort and celebrate his myriad contributions.
"Well I called him J.J before, but now I'll only call him 'The Milkman,'" Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. "I completely endorsed 'The Milkman' (Wednesday) night and it was trending (on Twitter) in Houston, and I will never refer to J.J. as anything other than 'The Milkman' from now on."
The subsequent question might as well have been placed on a tee given that Barwin is prone to spells of entertaining loquaciousness and the obvious correlation between the befitting nickname and the genial Watt.
"Yeah it's perfect," Barwin said. "I mean he's making plays, he's from Wisconsin (a dairy-producing state), he's white (and) he drinks more milk than anybody I've ever seen. I mean it's perfect."
Comedian Dave Chappelle famously portrayed a milkman named Clifton on a Jan 28, 2004 episode of his sketch comedy on Comedy Central, thus linking that occupation to a particular ethnicity is subject for debate. But given how frequently Watt has delivered for the Texans (11-6), who will face the Ravens (12-4) at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday in an AFC divisional game, the nickname is apropos. He's embodied consistency.
Watt was named to the All-Rookie Team by Pro Football Focus earlier this week, the first of many accolades sure to come his way. And while Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller is set to claim Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Watt is a legitimate candidate after recording 56 tackles (13 for loss), 5.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, four passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. He started the season opener against the Colts and has validated the confidence shown by Texans general manager Rick Smith, coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips when they elected to select Watt 11th overall last April.
Now Watt is The Milkman. The best always earn the coolest nicknames.
"I like that," Texans free safety Danieal Manning said. "We tease him about that all the time. J.J.'s been having a great year with us, and I'm happy for him. For the guy to come in with no offseason workouts, just jump right into training camp and the way he picked up this defense, and the way he comes in the starting lineup and making plays the way he's been playing, it's phenomenal. I'm glad to be playing alongside of him also."
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