HOUSTON (AP) — With all eyes on the tunnel leading under the stands, J.J. Watt emerged. He raised a Texas flag skyward before screaming "let's go," sending NRG Stadium into a frenzy.
Watt and the Houston Texans opened their season Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, giving the area ravaged by Hurricane Harvey and its flooding a much-needed distraction from the harsh reality of life in the wake of the storm.
Watt has become the celebrity face of the recovery from Harvey after raising a staggering $31 million in the two weeks since it devastated not only Houston but much of southeast Texas. He addressed fans in a video message played on the big screens before Sunday's game as images of the flooding flickered alongside the defensive end.
"Let's start this season off right and show what Texans are made of," Watt said in the video, drawing a huge roar from the crowd.
Before the national anthem, fans were asked to pause for a moment of silence for the victims of Harvey as well as those in the path of Hurricane Irma, which was hitting Florida on Sunday.
Louie Galvez, an Iraq veteran, tailgated before Sunday's game with a group of friends and family outfitted in matching shirts that read "Houstrong." Galvez was glad to get away from the job of replacing carpet and sheet rock in his suburban Houston home after it was hit by Harvey's floodwaters.
"We're taking a break from what actually happened, the reality," he said. "We're going to watch our Texans. We're going to support them all the way ... it gives us a little bit of hope. As well as they do is how we feel we might do in life."
© 2018 Associated Press