PITTSBURGH — They didn't know it at the time, but in the late '90s and early 2000s, the Watt family had three rambunctious future pro football players rough-housing in the backyard, the living room, really anywhere the brothers could find some room to get in a scrap.
You might picture vases falling, chairs being smashed or tables breaking, but what the Watt boys remember most is more of the toll they took on each other's bodies rather than the damage inflicted on anything expensive.
"I broke your face one time," T.J. Watt reminded his brother Derek before letting out a hearty chuckle.
"And that's expensive," Derek quipped back.
They may have been joking, but it's nonetheless a glimpse into the life of being the NFL's only current trio of brothers on active rosters as anticipation mounts for Watt Fest. These days, the shots they hit each other with are more verbal than physical, but Sunday will be all about J.J. Watt bringing the Houston Texans to a Heinz Field that houses his only siblings.
Feats of strength will be on display, from T.J. trying to out-rush J.J. against star quarterback Deshaun Watson, or the likely head-on collision between Steelers fullback Derek and the defensive lineman who shares his last name. But first, Friday was all about the hijinks that come with all three Watts sharing the field at the same time, for the first time.
Especially when T.J.'s and Derek's joint Zoom interview was infiltrated by a reporter introduced as "Justin James in Houston."
"Hello, this is Justin, 'Better Brother Gazette' here," J.J. deadpanned right around 7 a.m. his time. "This offseason, the beginning of the year when we were going through quarantine, it looked like you guys were training at a really nice facility with a nice gym, a good field, I was just wondering what the membership fees were at such a nice facility when none of the gyms were open?"
J.J. was referring to his own palatial estate in Wisconsin, naturally, where his younger brothers spent much of their offseason preparing for a 2020 campaign that would include a Week 3 date with the biggest star in the family.
"I can take this one, Derek, because I was a high-up member of that community," T.J. answered, playing along. "The thing about the club owner is he really enjoyed cutting the grass himself, he really enjoyed lining the football field for his members. The grass was always pristine, the gym was always clean. We tried to do our best to clean up after ourselves."
But the newest reporter in Houston would not be deterred by the straight-faced response.
"Follow-up question — last question, then I'll be on my way," J.J. started. "Do you guys always do your press conferences together? Thanks, I'll hang up and listen."
That one almost got a laugh out of the guys on the other side of the screen, but not quite. Instead, T.J. fired back, "Go to practice."
"Yeah, go to a meeting," Derek added.
J.J.'s questions might not even have been their favorite from a member of the Houston media. One sportscaster brought up that with two sacks, J.J. could become just the fourth player in NFL history to record 100 in only 115 games, and wouldn't it be neat for him to do that against his brothers?
There was an initial expression of disapproval from T.J., then Derek began answering seriously.
"Is this the last game he has the chance to do that?" he asked.
"Yeah, dude, it's got to be 115 games," his brother sitting next to him shot back. "I think J.J.'s got enough hardware. He's got three defensive player of the years. He's not shy of telling people that he has those awards, especially me, so I think he doesn't need this one."
Hey, might as well have fun with it. While it's the first time, it could also be the last time. First of all, it takes at least two of them being on the same team, which couldn't happen until the Steelers signed Derek this past March. And J.J. is 31, so if he's a Texan for life or walks away from his Hall of Fame career, there's no guarantee the two sides will meet again prior to their next scheduled matchup in 2023.
Which makes it all the more bittersweet for parents John and Connie Watt, not to mention Derek's wife, Gabriella, and their 19-month-old son, Logan. Any other year, they could have a Watt box, a Watt suite, at the Steelers stadium to celebrate the occasion. After all, it's only the second time in league history three brothers will play in the same game. Coincidentally, the Steelers helped make it happen for the first time last year, when Terrell and Trey Edmunds faced their brother Tremaine with Buffalo (Trey is now on the Steelers practice squad).
"I know some of our coaches have been talking about just how special of an experience it would be, and there's got to be some sort of an exception they could make," Derek said.
Indeed, in the pandemic world, with no fans in the stands, the other Watts won't be there. Mom and dad plan to watch in Wisconsin, though they'd have been willing to get tested for COVID-19 all day, every day if it came to that, according to their kids, and surely would take a bus, plane, train or just run here if something comes up that allows them inside.
Instead, they'll catch the game on TV, "and rewind everything they possibly can, any interaction they can possibly get," Derek said. The parents view it as a momentous occasion either way, although at least one of their sons will have to lose.
It's probably not wise to point out to a Watt that they could tie. But at the end of the day, win or lose, nothing beats family. Now that the day is finally almost here, it'll be gone before they know it, but the nights around the fire will still be there. The competitive card games aren't going anywhere. And the constant group chat text message will continue on, whether the Texans drop to 0-3 or the Steelers fall to 2-1.
"Derek's always sending pictures of Logan, J.J.'s always talking about how hot it is down in Houston, I've always got nothing to talk about," T.J. grinned, poking a bit of fun at himself for being the baby and perhaps last one to grow up — or maybe for being the most boring one.
"In terms of being the best babysitter, I would by no means give it to T.J.," Derek said later. "He's really only had one time where he's truly had to babysit."
"Whoa, this is the first I'm hearing of this," T.J. interjected. "Derek doesn't trust me to babysit full-time."
"Would you change a diaper if it came down to it?" Derek replied.
"Heck, no," T.J. answered.
"That's my point," Derek said.
"I'm not changing diapers," T.J. reiterated. "That's where I draw the line."
"That's a crucial part of being a babysitter, though," Derek explained.
At some point, J.J. can try his hand at all that. But first, football.
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