Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Rick Smith
Head Coach Bill O’Brien
DE J.J. Watt
EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS AND GENERAL MANAGER RICK SMITH
Can you take us through just how this all happened?
“Obviously the game was cancelled, and we are loading up now to go back to Houston. Houston is hurting and the entire region is hurting. We have several members of our travel party – our coaches, our players, staff members – whose families have been evacuated. There’s just so much devastation in the city and the region that we want to be a part of that recovery process. We know that we will recover as a community, as a city, as a region, and we just want to give back and become a part of that process.”
Could you tell us the process of canceling the game? How it came about and was the NFL involved?
“Yeah, we’ve been in contact with the NFL throughout the week, obviously, and the Cowboys. I can’t say enough about how cooperative, how impressed I’ve just been with the Jones family and the entire Cowboys organization. The way that they have cooperated with us and helped us – I can’t extend more gratitude to the Joneses and the Cowboys organization and how much we appreciate that. So, we have been in contact with the NFL and with the Cowboys over the course of the week. We did not have the option, up until today, to get the team safely home. So, that wasn’t available to us, and so, when it became available to us – we’ve got so many guys on the team that are distracted by all of the events and circumstances and things that are happening at home that it became increasingly more difficult from our perspective to ask those guys to go out and try to play a football game. Now, I’m not so sure it would have been fair to do so. So, when the opportunity arose today, that we had a safe route to get home, the decision was made to cancel the game and get our guys home.”
How important was it to decide to just get on home?
“Well, there’s nothing more important than our families and the safety of our loved ones and the recovery of our city. So, this is the right decision, and that’s why it was made, and we’re looking forward to coming home and helping with the recovery efforts.”
Do you have a specific message to the people in Houston?
“We’re strong. We’re hurting, Houston’s hurting, but Houston is strong. I’ve been there now over a decade, and so we are a part of the fabric of the community – my wife has been down at the George R. Brown (Convention Center) with my kids the last two days volunteering and taking care of the people that have come into the shelter. This entire organization, starting with the McNair family, has always been a part of our community and we’ll continue to do that and we’re going to play good for the City of Houston as we recover into the fall.”
Obviously getting back to Houston was a priority, does the team and staff now need some days and time away from the team to take care of things?
“I think the priority is family, and I think our intention – and I’m going to talk to Bill (O’Brien), we’ve got a little bit of time here on the bus to talk and develop the next set of plans, but I think the plan is to allow people to go and take care of their families. The one thing that I have been focused on in the last couple of days is when we do get back home and hit the ground, we have assets and resources for the entire organization, and when people are in need that we have the plan to speak to those needs, and so we’ll certainly do that.”
We’re seeing all the fundraising efforts, are you still amazed with what DE J.J Watt and the group behind him have done?
“Yes, it’s just been incredible. The outpouring of care and concern from all across the board has just been overwhelming at times, and certainly we appreciate that. There’s a lot of gratitude that we have about that.”
What has been the feedback from your players and the organization that you’re going home?
“They’re pros. I’ve been increasingly impressed with them as we have dealt with all the things that we’ve had to deal with over the last couple of days and the way that they have been resilient, the way that they have maintained their focus during practice and being pros. But, it was a shout of joy when we announced that we were going home. I think that everybody wants to get there.”
When you get home, will they just be able to get in their cars and go home or are some getting on trucks or buses?
“As best I understand it, the area around the stadium where all of our cars are parked, it’s safe, so our guys have their vehicles available to them. Now, do they have access to get home? I don’t know that all of them do, but we’re researching that as we go and trying to help make sure that we get everybody – when we do get home – that everybody understands how they can get to their loved ones, if it’s safe to do so, and if it’s not then we’ll develop plans to help them do that.”
What has to happen between now and the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, for that to be held at NRG Stadium?
“Nothing has to happen. The game is at NRG. It’s scheduled to be played at NRG, so it will be played at NRG.”
So, everything is good around the stadium?
HEAD COACH BILL O’BRIEN (upon arrival in Houston)
What does it mean to be back in Houston given what happened here?
“It means a lot. These guys were excited to get back. What’s incredible about this team is they’re excited to get back to help out. They’re really looking forward to helping this city rebound. We know it’s going to take a while. Both on the field and off the field. So, we’re excited to be back.”
How difficult has it been to concentrate on football?
“Yeah, it’s difficult. Like I said yesterday, I think with the families back here, a lot of our coaches’ families, players’ families, trainers’ families, equipment guys’, they were stuck. It was difficult. It was kind of a helpless feeling but now we’re back and we’re happy to be back.”
As a family man, it has to feel good to be able to go home now.
“Yeah, it is. I’ve been FaceTiming with my family and they’re tired of FaceTime. They want me to get home. But no, it’ll be exciting to be able to get home. It’s mostly exciting for these players and coaches and operations guys, everybody, to be able to get home.”
Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Rick Smith said football is not the priority right now, it’s family.
“I don’t think there’s any question. I mean, this is unprecedented. This has never happened before in this city. I think family is always the priority. Football is important, and we’re going to get back to football here pretty soon, there’s no doubt about that, but right now family is the priority.”
Have you learned a little bit about the character of your team over the last couple of days?
“It’s a good question. I mean, absolutely. I think, starting back in April, I knew we had a good bunch of guys in here but now there’s no doubt about it. I mean, we have guys here that were very focused when we asked them to be focused and then when they weren’t doing football things, they were really focused on helping Houston, led by J.J. (Watt). What J.J.’s done is incredible. I mean, it’s incredible. I told him yesterday, I said, ‘That thing’s going to get up to $10 million or more.’ And he’s adamant about those funds going directly to helping people, which says everything that needs to be said about J.J. and the rest of this team. These guys are here to help and we’re excited to be back.”
Could you describe the feeling of watching the images of the storm from afar?
“It’s been tough. It’s been tough, especially texting back and forth with some of our friends here. Just, ‘How’s it going,’ listening to stories of our coaches’ families, our players’ families. Our trainer, Geoff Kaplan, his family went through a tough experience. They were rescued and taken to a hotel, which is – thank God for that. But it’s affected us. Sometimes these things happen and it’s not necessarily directly affecting you. It’s affecting us, and like I said, our players are really glad to be back to be more hands-on with it.”
Does it put things in perspective that there’s a hurricane shelter right next to where you practice and play?
“Yeah, I just asked that on the way in. I said, ‘Now, is the stadium being used as a shelter?’ And they said, ‘No, across the way, the convention center there.’ So, it does hit home. I just saw there’s over 1,500 people there and probably more on the way. I think in the end, one thing that was pretty neat I saw on one of the news station was a theme about Texans helping Texans. That’s what I’ve learned. I grew up on the East Coast, but you really see the heart of people and the heart of Texas when you see all the different – the Texas Navy going out there on their boats and helping people and then shelters being opened up and people just doing whatever they can to help people survive. I think it’s an incredible. It’s really what it’s all about to be a human being, to be honest with you, is to help each other.”
It’s been a crazy month for your team with not being in Houston too much. How’s that been like?
“I think it’s brought us closer. I mean, time will tell. We have to play well. In the end, we know that this weekend’s about family but Monday we’ll start getting ready for Jacksonville and in the end, our job is to win football games. So, we know we have to get back to the business of that but this whole past month, I don’t think it’s been distracting, I think it’s been a month that has really brought our team closer together and we’re all excited about getting going on Monday.”
What’s your message to the fans out there?
“We said it the other day, I talked to the leaders of this team. I mean we’re dedicating this season to the City of Houston. We can’t wait to play in front of this crowd. We know it’s going to be so loud in that stadium right there on September 10th that roof might come off. We’re excited about that and we’re excited about being able to go out on the field and maybe give these people a lot to cheer for over the next few months here.”
Do you think you may visit some folks at the NRG Center shelter today?
“We do, we have plans. I don’t know about right now. If I can get over there I certainly will, but I think we have plans to go to the George (R.) Brown (Convention) Center and to do things around Houston, I know this weekend. We definitely will be involved with handing out supplies, trying to help people and just brighten peoples’ days.”
DE J.J. WATT
What do you think about the decision to cancel the game and go home?
“I think it’s the right decision. Everybody here is obviously most concerned about their families, their friends, the City of Houston back home, so I think it’s extremely important that we get home as quickly as we possibly can. I know we’re all very excited to get back there and see our people, but then also to start helping. I know my guys, the team has been incredible throughout the whole thing. Everybody’s asking how they can help. Everybody’s asking what they can do. I think we’re just very, very excited to get back there – be with our city and help our city rebuild.”
I know you just found out that you’re going back, but do you have immediate plans for when you return?
“Yeah, first thing I’m going to do is hug my girlfriend, and then we’re going to get to work. I think that we’ve all seen what’s happened. We just passed the $6 million mark on the fundraiser. I’ve upped the goal to $10 million because everything is bigger in Texas, and why not shoot for $10 million (and) see what we can do? I’ve already begun the process. We’re filling the semi-trucks as we speak. Many people have donated their trucks, their time, donated food, water, clothing, generators, things like that. The goal is this weekend, we’re going to get those trucks done here by this weekend, and hopefully, the tentative plan is Sunday we’re going to have a bunch of my teammates are going to help me out in a few different locations around town to be determined and we’re going to hand out those supplies. The whole process – I’m going to keep the people updated. I want these people to know that their money is going directly to the people of Houston. I want them to be able to see that their money is going directly to the people. So, I’ll keep you updated the whole time. Our first wave of things is hopefully Sunday, delivering things to the people of Houston. I’m also working – I want you to know that when I say Houston, I mean Rockport, I mean Victoria, things like that. It’s not just the Houston metropolitan, it’s everywhere. So, thank you to everybody’s who has donated. Please, please keep donating. We’re going to try to get to $10 million.”
What has it been like watching the videos of Houston, and what’s your message to those people?
“It’s been very difficult. It’s been extremely difficult to watch but it’s also been unbelievably motivational to see firefighters, policemen, everyday citizens out on boats helping each other out, lifting each other up. It’s an unbelievable thing to witness – what happens in a time of crisis. The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity, and I think that’s what we’re seeing right now. I think we’re seeing humans helping humans. It doesn’t matter rich, poor, black, white. It doesn’t matter. Everybody’s helping everybody, and I think that’s what’s most important in a time like this, and it’s incredible to witness.”
The McNairs have matched whatever proceeds would have been generated by the game since it’s not going to be played and give it to the relief fund. What do you think about that?
“I think that’s great. I think that to see what everybody’s done – the McNairs, (Houston Rockets owner) Mr. (Leslie) Alexander, (Houston Astros owner) Mr. (Jim) Crane, people from all over the world who have donated. I think it’s so incredible to see people come together for something like this and we’re going to do everything that we can to rebuild the city. And it’s not just the big donors either. I want everybody to know that it’s the small donors. It’s the people donating $5, $10 – whatever you can donate, it’s incredibly appreciated, and like I said the whole time, I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to get that money directly out to the people.”
Who do you talk to back in Houston that you know certain areas that you have to go to that might be more impacted than others? Who do you communicate with?
“That’s what we’re working on right now. We have a team of people back in Houston who are helping me. We’re basically trying to find – A, the safest areas we can get to, obviously we don’t want to put anybody in danger, but then B, the areas that need it the absolute most. So, we’re going to try and set up – literally, it’s going to be open up the back of a semi-truck and start handing out water, start handing out clothes. It’s a fluid situation. It’s obviously very difficult to coordinate so rapidly, but it’s awesome to see the volunteers we’ve had so far help, and I just want you to know I’m doing my best. I’m not going to be perfect at this, I can promise you because it’s happening on the fly and I’ve never done anything like this, but I’m doing everything I can and we’re going to make it as good as we possibly can.”
How special does it feel to have this kind of impact?
“It’s not me. I’m just the one organizing it. It’s all these people donating, it’s all these volunteers, it’s all the firefighters and policemen and citizens out helping each other. I’m just the guy who’s trying to organize it all and make sure that we do whatever we can and use my platform as best I can to organize it. There are so many people out there that want to help, we just needed somebody to organize it. I’m just very glad that I could use my platform to help organize it.”
Obviously, it appeared you all were going to be here at least through Thursday, probably Friday. When the team go the news, were they pleased?
“It was subdued joy because we’re obviously extremely sensitive of the situation and we’re excited to get back and help, but I think guys just want to see their wives, guys want to see their kids, guys want to see their families. So, it’s going to be a very nice thing, just to get back and be able to embrace their families and everybody can see that each other is safe and then we can start that rebuilding process. One thing I do want to say is, just because the storms are receding, just because the water levels are lowering, doesn’t mean we can stop raising money, doesn’t mean we can stop thinking about these victims. That’s such an important message right now. Just please keep donating, keep raising awareness, keep helping each other out. This is not a one-day, this is not a one week-process. This is going to be a very, very long process and Houston, I just want you to know that we’re going to be with you every step of the way.”
Major people around the country have reached out to you, who else have you heard from since yesterday?
“It’s been awesome. From near and far, from big businesses to athletic programs to musicians to community leaders, it’s been – I can’t even begin to explain what it’s like. So, you’ll see more in the coming days, I’m sure, but there’s so many people, I wish I could recognize every single person by name because everybody deserves to be recognized by name. If you’re donating, please put your name on there because you deserve to be recognized, you deserve to get the credit, because you are helping people. So, thank you to everybody and we’re going to do our best. I’m excited to get back. Houston, we’re coming home and we’re going to help you.”
You have teammates all over the city, living in different places, how prepared are you and where do you think they are?
“I think we’re all going into a bit of a situation where we don’t necessarily know exactly what we’re going to find. I know a couple guys have two feet of water in their homes, other guys were in evacuation zones and they had to move, people had to be rescued by boat. That’s the thing about all this that hits so close to home is that this isn’t something we’re just witnessing on TV and helping from afar. This is happening to our people. Guys on these buses right here have been displaced from their homes. Their families have been gone, their homes are being lost, so it hits very, very close and I think that’s why we’re so passionate, that’s why we’re so excited to help and help rebuild our city.”