At first, she thought he was just a statue.
As 6-year-old Breanna Bartay saw J.J. Watt, she didn’t think he was real. After all, the NFL superstar wasn’t supposed to be there. Bartay, her mom and her brother were just at Reliant Stadium for a tour.
But there was Watt, the 6-5, 295-pound All-Pro defensive lineman, down on one knee, bouquet of flowers in one hand, Ring Pop in the other.
“It feels super good,” said a giggling Bartay on the phone the day after the encounter. “Yeah, I thought it was pretty cool.”
The meeting originally stemmed from an internet video that Bartay’s mother, Lindsey, posted to YouTube about two weeks ago. The family was watching the news, as Lindsey Bartay recalls, when they saw a story about the 23-year-old Watt, which talked about him looking for the right woman.
That’s when the little girl spoke up. “I want to marry J.J. Watt,” she said.
“At first I was taping it because she was goo-gooing and I’m the mom who likes to embarrass everyone,” Lindsey Bartay said.
But that’s when the 6-year-old heard some of the worst news she’d ever heard. Her grandmother told her that she needed to be 25 to marry. With this revelation – she was 19 years from even being able to get hitched – Bartay started to cry, which translated into internet gold. As of 9:30 p.m. on Thursday night, the video has over 132,000 views on YouTube.
That would have normally been the end of story. A cute little girl. A cute internet video. That would have been the end of story if J.J. Watt wasn’t J.J. Watt.
Watt is coming off one of the greatest seasons in NFL history. His defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Watt had the greatest season a defensive lineman has ever had. He finished the year with 20.5 sacks and became the first player in NFL history with 15 sacks and 15 passes defended in the regular season. He also led the Texans with 81 tackles – including 39 for loss – and four forced fumbles.
Barring some unforeseen, incomprehensible upset, he’ll be named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year on Saturday.
But it stands to reason that Watt is having just as good a year off the field as he had on it. And given his 2012 season, that’s saying a heckuva lot.
Watt, after just his second year in the NFL, is one of the guys who “gets it.” That’s the way people who have been around professional sports say he understands that football is a game, that there are more important things.
Watt spent time and took photos with children from Sandy Hook Elementary School before the Texans’ Week 16 game against the Colts. He visits children’s hospitals. He helps run the Justin J. Watt Foundation. And, yes, he even took the time and the initiative to find a very sad little girl and make her happy again.
But what makes all that more impressive is that he doesn’t gloat about it; he’d do it if no one was watching. And there’s plenty he does when no one’s watching.
“I was getting a lot of media calls and he said ‘you don’t have to do it (talk to the media). That’s not why I’m doing this,’” Lindsey Bartay said. “’I’m not in it for the publicity. I just want to help the community.’ And I thought that was great.”
So did Breanna.
See, Watt put out some feelers and even posted the video to his Twitter account in an attempt to meet his biggest fan. When the Bartays arrived at Reliant on Wednesday, Watt hid and instead sent a fake tour guide – that’s of course what they told Breanna the reason for her being there was.
But that wasn’t the case at all.
So when Bartay, the first-grader from Richmond, Texas, met her crush and favorite Texan on Wednesday – she says she’s a huge Texans fan too – she didn’t hesitate to accept the marriage proposal from Watt, who slide the Ring Pop on her finger.
"I brought her flowers, proposed to her with the Ring Pop. I gave her a No. 99 jersey, a white one, to be her wedding dress for the day,” Watt said on Yahoo! Sports Radio Thursday morning. “It was awesome and it was great and we had our first dance to her favorite artist, Justin Bieber. It was really, really cool ... It was fun, it was priceless.”
At first, Lindsey Bartay was hesitant to accept the kind offer from Watt. Sure, her daughter is a huge fan and it would certainly be an experience, but she thought there had to be people who could use it more. There had to be people who were less fortunate.
But what helped Lindsey Bartay make the decision to accept the offer was that her daughter has been struggling with self-esteem issues. The family, along with the school, has been working on ways to improve them. Granted, fake-marrying the likely Defensive Player of the Year is a little outside the box, but it worked.
Those self-esteem issues weren’t visible on Wednesday, Lindsey Bartay said. In fact, it turned out to be a pretty good day. After being given the white jersey/wedding dress (it was autographed, of course) Watt and his biggest little fan needed to have their first dance, so Watt asked her what song to play. She said Justin Beiber, so Watt put on the song “Boyfriend,” but about halfway through, changed it.
“He said it wasn’t the appropriate song,” Lindsey Bartay said. Well, of course not – they were past that … they were married. So instead, Watt played “As Long As You Love Me.” And the two danced.
“He spun her around and he even spun himself around a little bit and dipped her,” Lindsey Bartay said. “They danced for the whole song.”
After the wedding was over, Watt slyly tossed around the football with Breanna’s 10-year-old brother Brayden. After all, you gotta get in good with the in-laws. It was a good day.
“It was the best day ever,” Breanna Bartay said.
And Watt made it possible.
At first, she thought he was just a statue.