Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Real Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Where the Headless Horseman Lost His Head

Exploring Washington Irving’s Hudson Valley Haunts

In the summer of 1798, an outbreak of yellow fever in Manhattan sent a 15-year-old Washington Irving upriver to the home of his childhood friend James K. Paulding in Tarrytown.

Irving remained healthy but became smitten with something else: the rustic and spirited surroundings of what would eventually become Westchester County. He later settled in the area, and throughout his career as an internationally acclaimed author, he wove the local landscape and its inhabitants into his writings.

Since then, Irving’s character Diedrich Knickerbocker has lent his name to beer and basketball, and the author’s Rip Van Winkle is invoked to mock people who seemingly have let time pass them by.

The Headless Horseman from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has inspired movies, music and even a Lego figure; he appears in the lyrics of Kanye West and is currently starring in a network television series.

But what of Irving himself? Who was the man whose lore continues to pervade our culture?

Washington Irving (April 3rd, 1783 – November 28th, 1859)
“He wraps his identity into so many different layers,” said Michael Lord, associate director of education at Historic Hudson Valley, the educational organization based in Tarrytown that oversees Sunnyside, Irving’s former home, and other historic sites.

Irving was a historian and a statesman in addition to being the author of about 20 books, depending on how you count them. He wrote fiction, biographies, essays, travelogues, plays and poetry, sometimes using pseudonyms that included Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent.; Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.; Fray Antonio Agapida and Diedrich Knickerbocker.

The youngest of eight surviving children, Irving was born in Manhattan at the close of the Revolutionary War. He began writing as a teenager and was in his 20s when he gained attention at home and overseas for his satirical “A History of New York, From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker.” Knickerbocker reappeared in Irving’s next collection, “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.,” as the attributed source for the author’s most enduring stories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “Sleepy Hollow.”

Irving compiled “Sketch Book” during a 17-year stay in Europe, where his reputation and interests expanded. While living in Spain, he served as an attaché at the United States Embassy in Madrid, and wrote books about Christopher Columbus, the conquest of Granada and the Alhambra palace. In 1835, upon returning to New York, he bought a farmhouse on the banks of the Hudson River, located on the border of Tarrytown and Irvington, and transformed it into Sunnyside. Aside from a four-year stint as ambassador to Spain in the 1840s, he lived in the home for the rest of his days.
Jonathan Kruk performing “The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow” in the Old Dutch Church
in the village of Sleepy Hollow.
Credit Tom Nycz

Irving never married, but the estate was always bustling. He shared the residence with his extended family, and the construction of the railroad shortly after his arrival meant convenient transportation for his numerous guests. He entertained politicians and artists; as the first American author to earn a living from his writing, he became a role model for younger writers like Charles Dickens, James Fenimore Cooper and Edgar Allan Poe. “He was the first celebrity to move here,” Mr. Lord said.

Irving went on to write biographies of the poets Oliver Goldsmith and Margaret Miller Davidson and of the prophet Mohammed. His final work was a five-volume biography of George Washington. But before tackling that, he resurrected Diedrich Knickerbocker and Geoffrey Crayon to narrate some of the stories in “Wolfert’s Roost and Miscellanies.”

In that collection, published in 1855, four years before he died, Irving returned to the haunts of his youthful summer, where the Pocantico River was a “perfectly wizard stream” and Sunnyside “a little old-fashioned stone mansion, all made up of gable-ends, and as full of angles and corners as an old cocked hat.”

People interested in learning more about Sunnyside’s clever and multifaceted occupant can take a tour through those angles and corners. As conceived by Irving, the design of Sunnyside was indeed eclectic. “He took cues from his travels in Europe,” Mr. Lord said, “from the stepped gables, to the English cluster chimneys, to the Italianate pagoda. Sunnyside was iconic even in Irving’s day.”

Inside, the house remains much as it was when Irving lived there. Many of his possessions are on view, including his oak partner’s desk, his favorite Voltaire chair and his walking stick.

Not far from Sunnyside is a memorial to Irving, erected in 1927, that features sculptures by Daniel Chester French, who created the seated president in the Lincoln Memorial. A bust of Irving is flanked by two of his characters, King Boabdil of Granada and Rip Van Winkle, who slumbered in the Catskill Mountains through the Revolutionary War. Another Rip Van Winkle sculpture can be found on a patch of grass a few blocks to the south. There, Rip is bearded and bewildered, newly awakened from his two-decade nap.

The most indelible aspect of Irving’s legacy lies in the village of Sleepy Hollow, which the author endowed with a “drowsy, dreamy influence” and described as a “lap of land, among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world.” Nevertheless, it was here that the Headless Horseman terrorized the gangly Ichabod Crane one crisp autumn night. It is easy to retrace that fateful ride, north on Route 9 from the Van Tassels’ house (now the Landmark Condominium in Tarrytown), past Patriots Park, over the Pocantico to the 17th-century Old Dutch Church. In “Sleepy Hollow,” Ichabod was the choirmaster at the gambrel-roofed church, where, Irving wrote, the “peculiar quavers” of his resounding voice can still be heard.

Visitors can wander among the gravestones in the burial ground that abuts the church, where Irving cavorted as a teenager; in “Wolfert’s Roost,” he apologized for “the thoughtless frolic with which, in company with other whipsters, I have sported within its sacred bounds.”

Irving’s own grave is on a hillside in the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. On Thursday at 7 p.m., in the chapel on the grounds, David Neilsen will present “Beyond the Legend: Irving’s Ghost Stories,” a reading of some of the author’s lesser-known tales.

This being Halloween season, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is center stage. Historic Hudson Valley offers three ways to experience the story.

“Irving’s Legend,’ ” at the Old Dutch Church, is a one-man re-enactment by Jonathan Kruk, an award-winning Hudson Valley storyteller who dresses in period attire and is accompanied by organ music.

“Horseman’s Hollow” turns nearby Philipsburg Manor into an interactive haunted environment populated by ghoulish creatures including, of course, the Headless Horseman.

At Sunnyside, “The Legend Behind the ‘Legend’ ” is an exhibition of related artworks, objects and memorabilia, along with storytelling, shadow puppets, craft activities, 19th-century games and a spooky walk around the property.

Last month, Penguin Classics published “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories,” a new edition of Irving’s “Sketch Book.” Elizabeth L. Bradley, an Irving scholar and literary consultant to Historic Hudson Valley, wrote the introduction and notes. Ms. Bradley said the book’s release was timely. “I love that everyone has some ownership over Irving’s stories,” she said, “but people forget the provenance. It seemed like a good moment to revisit it.”

In the book, Ms. Bradley describes Irving as “the architect of America’s founding mythology.” Referring to “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” she said: “Even now, there is something about these stories that transcends ethnic background, educational level and economic situation. Irving peopled the Hudson River Valley with characters who have become so thoroughly absorbed into the fabric of our lives that we can’t extricate them from our own perspective. They have that kind of pull. They’re just part of you.” — Susan Hodara | New York Times

The Origins Of Yoda — Grandmaster Of The Jedi Order

Strong is he with the force.
theKONGBLOG™ explore the origins of Yoda.


Stuart Freeborn (Grandmaster Make-Up Artist) + Albert Einstein (Grandmaster Genius Scientist) =
Yoda (
Grandmaster of the Jedi Order)
"After Ben in Star Wars had killed, I had to find a way to replace him. I did not want to put another person in his place, and so I decided to make him tiny, green, very strange, eight hundred years old, and in terms of Jedi power level quite different from Ben. Then I created the background story, which he had been Ben's teacher." — George Lucas


STUART FREEBORN
The makeup artist who became Yoda.

Stuart Freeborn built his reputation by staring deep into the faces of others, defining their best features and digging into his makeup kit to make sure everyone else noticed them, too. He learned how to accentuate a cheekbone from none other than Marlene Dietrich. The arch in Vivien Leigh’s eyebrow owed some of its impish charm to him. But decades into his career, when George Lucas asked him to create a centuries-old Jedi master, Freeborn took a long look at a face that he had never considered with much professional interest: His own.
The character of Yoda would become a fun-house distortion of Freeborn’s own reflection.
He designed plenty of prosthetics and masks in his day — the man-apes in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” sprang from his workshop, as did Chewbacca and the menagerie of alien grotesques in the “Star Wars” cantina scene. Irvin Kershner, who was tapped by Lucas to direct “The Empire Strikes Back,” initially believed that Yoda should be a bearded Moses figure who towered above everyone else on set. But in his mirror, Freeborn saw a quirky man who was forever looking up at the world. After Freeborn survived a backbreaking car accident while working on “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1957, Alec Guinness speculated that the diminutive makeup man — who was about 5-foot-4 before the accident — had been robbed of an inch or two by the doctors who pieced him back together. Yoda, in the end, stood just over two feet tall.
In the mirror, Freeborn could examine the contours of the crown of his skull, fully exposed by a hairline that completed a retreat years before. Freeborn etched deep wrinkles into Yoda’s bald scalp that were exaggerated replicas of the lines that creased his own forehead when, for example, he zeroed in on the tight-focus particulars of Yoda’s physiognomy. The pointed chin, the compact nose and the thin, pursed lips all made the leap from the mirror to the model. The only feature he borrowed from someone else was the upper lip: It was a hairless version of Albert Einstein’s, Freeborn said. He hoped that it might trigger a subconscious association and that viewers might intuit Yoda’s extraordinary intelligence.
On-screen, Yoda’s eyes widened with delight when his Jedi protégé, Luke Skywalker, learned to harness the power of “the Force.” Michelle Freeborn said she saw that same delight in the eyes of her grandfather, particularly when the trainees in his workshop achieved something they had assumed was beyond their reach.
Before Freeborn died this year, all three of his children preceded him in death. But his indirect descendants are everywhere: villains in the Batman films, creatures in the “Alien” sequels, the wizards of the Harry Potter franchise. Many of them were designed by artists who got their start apprenticing alongside Freeborn, the wise little guru who taught them to be masters in their own right. — Monte Reel | The New York Times

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Veteran Hollywood Stuntmen Turned Movie Directors

Chad Stahelski and David Leitch

Veteran Stuntmen Become Directors With 'John Wick'


Chad Stahelski and David Leitch speak in shorthand when it comes to shooting sprees. Also mixed martial arts throw-downs, crazy car crashes and escaping explosions.
After 20 years performing, choreographing, coordinating and directing movie stunts together — not to mention setting up their own stunt company — Stahelski and Leitch have become experts at big-screen action.
Starting as stunt doubles for Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt, they've grown to oversee stunt action on blockbuster fare such as "The Wolverine," ''Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and "The Hunger Games" franchise. For the last few years, they've been ready to take the next step: finding a film of their own to direct.
Reeves helped make that happen when he introduced them to "John Wick," an action-saturated thrill ride in theaters Oct. 24.

"When I got the script... I immediately thought of Chad and Dave for the action design, but I was secretly hoping they'd want to direct it," Reeves said in a recent interview. "I knew that they would love the genre and I knew that they would love John Wick. And I thought the worlds that get created — the real world and then this underworld — would be attractive to them, and it was."
Reeves stars as the titular character, a retired killer-for-hire who's drawn back into the underworld, seeking revenge after a group of thugs steal his car and kill the dog given to him by his dead wife. Willem Dafoe also stars.
After reading the script, Stahelski and Leitch, both martial arts experts and Bruce Lee fans, told Reeves they wanted to tell the story of "John Wick" with a graphic-novel twist, creating a stylized, heightened reality where the suit-clad killer could systematically shoot 84 people in a nightclub without batting an eye or wrinkling his clothes.
They also wanted to craft a character whose outsized motivations would make sense to audiences. And they wanted to prove to themselves that, after 20 years in the movie business, they could tell a story from top to bottom as filmmakers.
"It was the challenge — and the ego of ourselves — to prove that we could do something different," said Stahelski, a tall, lean man in his mid-40s with an authoritative demeanor that belies his easy smile. He's been friends with Reeves since working as his stunt double in "The Matrix" movies.
Reeves supported the pair's pitch to producers, and the veteran stuntmen had their first directing gig.
Stahelski and Leitch, who was Pitt's stunt double in "Fight Club" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," formed their stunt company, 87Eleven Action Design, in 2004. Their facility, tucked inside an industrial complex near Los Angeles International Airport, is a hub of muscle, flexibility and creativity, with a team of 16 choreographers on staff.
One section of the warehouse space holds weight machines and gymnastics mats; another has a springboard floor where lithe athlete-actors practice artful falls into stacks of empty cardboard boxes. Various swords, battle axes and medieval weapons stand in the corner beside a wood-and-metal rig that can be adjusted for parkour or high falls. Posters of the movies the company has worked on line the walls.
Reeves spent three months working with half a dozen 87Eleven athletes to prepare to become John Wick, learning judo, Jiu jitsu and other fighting styles, plus mastering firing and reloading an assortment of high-powered weapons.
"It was very intense," he said, "but that's what I like."
Stahelski and Leitch typically take on several big projects a year as stunt coordinators and second-unit directors, creating and shooting action sequences for other directors' big-budget projects. But they stepped away from those opportunities to spend 18 months making "John Wick."
"Stunt coordinating is a good training ground for directing, because you have exposure to all the departments in film," Leitch said. "There's a lot of directing within the stunt coordinator's job."
Stunt coordinators also have to understand camera angles to make fight sequences convincing, he said, and they know how to work with actors because they spend months preparing them for action roles. Perhaps the best known stuntman-turned-director is the late Hal Needham, who left stunts behind to write and direct 1977's "Smokey and the Bandit."
Though Stahelski and Leitch shared duties on "John Wick," just as they do with 87Eleven, Stahelski is credited as the film's director and Leitch as producer. Maybe because they're hoping for more opportunities behind the camera.
"Our focus has always been to be filmmakers first and department heads second," Stahelski said. "Now we're following our passion and our dream."

Chad Stahelski, left, and David Leitch, co-directors of "John Wick," pose for a portrait during a training session at 87Eleven Action Design in Inglewood, Calif. After two decades performing, choreographing, coordinating and directing movie stunts together, Stahelski and Leitch have become experts at big-screen thrills. They started out as stunt doubles for Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt, and grew to oversee the action on such films as “The Wolverine,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “The Hunger Games” franchise. Their new movie, "John Wick" opens in theaters Oct. 24. (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP)

Meet the Extreme Stuntmen Behind Hollywood's Most Epic Fight Scenes


What do the ferocious Spartan battle scenes in “300,” the heart-pounding action in “The Bourne Legacy” and the impeccably choreographed fight sequences in the just-released "John Wick" have in common?
That would be Chad Stahelski and David Leitch -– two of Hollywood’s premiere fight choreographers and stunt coordinators.
Their work appears in virtually all of the great action movies in recent memory -– “Hunger Games,” “The Matrix,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Troy,” and many more.
Stahelski and Leitch invited “Nightline” to 87Eleven Action Design -- their one-stop-shop gym, stunt training and production studio in Los Angeles -– to demonstrate how the biggest action stars learn how to kick butt on-screen.
“Keanu has been here,” Leitch said. “Ryan Reynolds, Scarlett Johansson Chris ... Hensworth, Chris Evans, the cast of 'The Avengers' ... Hugh Jackman ... Stallone, Schwarzenegger’s popped in.”
87Eleven also employs a roster of Hollywood’s best stunt doubles. Sam Hargave doubled as Chris Evans in “Captain America.”
“I work with a lot of actors who are physically talented but [Evans’] memory his recall for choreography and for physical movement is incredible,” Hargave said. “He can jump higher than much more athletic than me as far as natural ability if he had put his energy into doing stunts I’d be out of a job.”
Heidi Moneymaker trained and doubled Scarlett Johansson for her role as Black Widow in “Ironman 2” and “The Avengers.”


“We work really well together. She’s a hard worker,” Moneymaker said. “She likes being involved. She likes to try the stunt, she likes to try it. There’s a wire or something and she likes to be involved.”
And her sister, Renae Moneymaker, doubles for Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the “Hunger Games” series and Mystique in the “X-Men” series.
But what makes Stahelski and Leitch stand apart from other stunt double powerhouses in the business is their unique approach to landing the biggest action jobs. When they hear about a major project, they essentially storyboard and direct a stunt sequence -- choreographing, shooting and editing a full scene to present to directors.
“We were like we want the job, we want to do this movie here’s what you could have,” Stahelski said. “It was like mini-film school.”
Both Stahleski and Leitch got their starts as stunt doubles for Hollywood action greats – Stahelski doubled for Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” trilogy and Leitch doubled for Brad Pitt in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Troy.”
But they upped the ante for "John Wick," pitching themselves to the studio as potential directors -- not just stunt coordinators or second unit directors -- for the project.
“They know how to make a movie," Keanu Reeves told "Nightline." "When I sent them ‘John Wick,’ I was hoping ... that they could bring something unique to it because of their experience, but I was secretly hoping that they would direct it."
One thing is clear, as long as Hollywood is doing epic fight scenes, it’s a good bet Stahelski and Leitch will be behind them.

JOHN WICK (2014) -starring- Keanu Reeves | Directed by Chad Stahelski


JOHN WICK (2014) -starring- Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters, Bridget Moynahan, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo & Willem Dafoe | Directed by Chad Stahelski



Keanu Reeves plays a former hit man named John Wick out for revenge. 
Don’t set him off.

What are you saying? Ask yourself...how can you or anyone -for that matter, question the powers that dogs...descendants of great, great, great, great, great, great... ...great grand-wolves — whom we've bred & raise to our own image & likeness; an animal that is surely & truly man's best friend...effects us in ways that are indescribable. Now, ask yourself...is it reasonable to question the motive of a man — Mister John Wick, whose baby was just killed?

Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Studio: Lionsgate
Release: October 24th, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"808" Documentary [Official Trailer]


"808" | The heart of the beat that changed music.
Film & Soundtrack Coming 2015

"808" features appearances and commentary from: Arthur Baker, Pharrell, David Guetta, Phil Collins, Lil Jon, Afrika Bambaataa, Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim), Rick Rubin, Diplo, Goldie and more.

Produced by You Know Films in association with Atlantic Films
Directed by Alexander Dunn
Executive Producer: Alex Noyer
Producers: Alex Noyer, Craig Kallman & Alexander Dunn
Producer & Co-Executive Producer Arthur Baker for Re-Covered Content Ltd
Written by Alexander Dunn & Luke Bainbridge 

Exclusive: Phil Collins, Rick Rubin, Pharrell Extol '808' Drum Machine in New Doc

Film features interviews with Questlove, Damon Albarn and many more professing their love of the Roland TR-808

The Roland TR-808 is one of the most distinct, influential and beloved instruments of the early Eighties, with the electronic rhythm composer used by everyone from Talking Heads and Afrika Bambaataa to Marvin Gaye and the Beastie Boys. Even Kanye West devoted an album title to the instrument's unmistakable sound. In 2015, the story behind the landmark machine will hit theatres thanks to 808, a documentary that focuses on the Roland TR-808 and its cult following, and Rolling Stone has your first look at the film's trailer.

The doc features interviews with many marquee drummers and artists who have utilized the machine, including Damon Albarn, Phil Collins, Diplo, New Order, Fatboy Slim, David Guetta, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Talking Heads' Chris Frantz and Lil Jon. Talking about Bambaataa's seminal "Planet Rock," one of the first hits constructed out of an 808, Pharrell Williams says, "'Planet Rock' just did something else too. We never heard anything like that before."
 Roland TR-808 — revolutionary computer-controlled rhythm machine; offers up to 768 measures of programming at a time

"The rhythm of an 808 has its own internal groove," Rick Rubin says of the instrument that was the backbone of the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, while Questlove adds, "It's the futuristic thing I ever heard. A drum inside a machine." 

The documentary also answers a question that has troubled music fans for years: Why was the Roland TR-808 discontinued so quickly at the height of its success and influence? In an exclusive interview, 808 talks to Roland founder Ikutaro "Mr. K" Kakehashi to solve the mystery.

"Making a documentary about a drum machine, a piece of electronic equipment, is an interesting challenge," director Alexander Dunn said in a statement . "It has no voice of its own, so as a protagonist, it's rather difficult to mold a story around. 808 has really been a journey of discovery for me. One that led myself and the team to meet over 50 musicians and artists from all around the world, hearing their personal stories about the 808 and the music they created using its iconic sounds. Those artists and musicians are the real protagonists of the film and the 808, in the hands of our contributors, would change music forever."

808 was produced by Atlantic Films, You Know Films and Arthur Baker. An era-spanning soundtrack featuring many of the greatest hits produced by a Roland TR-808 will accompany the film. — Daniel Kreps | RollingStone

Friday, October 24, 2014

Top 5 NBA Preseason Play: October 23rd, 2014


 
Count down the top five plays from Thursday night's action.
 
 

Our Favorite Cartoon Characters — Where Are They Now?


 
Then and Now           
A Bleakly Hilarious Look At What Your Favorite Cartoon Characters Are Up To These Days

Think you had it hard during the recession? At least you weren't an animated hero forced to sell insurance or man a kebob stand, which are the respective fates of Skeletor and Charlie Brown in Where Are They Now?, an amusing short animation, created and voiced by artist Steve Cutts.

The cartoon is narrated by Jessica Rabbit (whose famous figure has fallen victim to time and chips), and follows the disappointments of her career and marriage.

 
But the truly brilliant thing about the short, is the casual way in which Cutts populates the public and professional spaces of city life with beloved characters from our youth. Many of these icons are merely background, like the Sesame Street characters eating alone at a fast food joint or the overweight, boozing She-Ra.

Also smart, is how these heroes and super-villains must re-imagine their epic feuds when forced into mundane settings. As a supermarket cashier, the only way for Mumm-Raa to fulfill his evil nature is by playing dumb pranks on Lion-O, the janitor. But the cartoon isn't a total bastardization; in a few cases, Cutts really does fulfill characters' true destinies.

Like He-Man and Man-At-Arms, who were clearly fated to lounge shirtless by the pool and rub each other down with coconut oil. — Jennifer Miller | Fast Company

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Top 10 NBA Preseason Plays: October 22nd, 2014


 
Count down the top ten plays from Wednesday night.
 
Tristan Thompson

Top 10 NBA Preseason Plays: October 21st, 2014


 
Check out the top 10 plays from Tuesday's night.
 
Dwight Howard a.k.a. D12
 

J.J. Watt — Greatest Defensive Player Of All-Time?


Only Greatness Will Do For J.J. Watt

Coaches, teammates agree: Dominance is main motivation for Texans All-Pro


HOUSTON -- He walks in, the best defensive football player on the planet, and takes a seat in a small media workroom inside NRG Stadium.

J.J. Watt is wearing Houston Texans gear and white sneakers with "Mega Watt" scribbled in red on the back. He puts his iPhone, sans a case, in his lap, clasps his massive hands together, looks at the floor and then raises his head, his icy blue eyes ablaze, his chiseled face expressionless.

"I owe you a huge apology," I say, taking a seat an arm's length away from him. "I'm very sorry."

Watt didn't ask for an explanation.

"That's all right," he says.

'No, it isn't.'

Watt and I had never sat down for a one-on-one interview before last week. We spoke once by phone midway through his second year in the NFL, in 2012. By that time, Watt had convinced his defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, that he could take calculated risks on the football field because he had the talent, the work ethic and the drive to make them work. And Phillips had figured out that not only did Watt see the field better than any defender he had ever coached, but Watt played the defensive end position better than anyone, too.

The end of the 2011 regular season had been Watt's coming-out party, and the playoffs were his confirmation. His 2012 season ranks among the greatest ever by a defensive player: 20.5 sacks, 16 passes defensed, a team-high 107 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 42 quarterback hits, 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.

"He had the best year anybody's ever had," said Phillips, who during 37 seasons in the NFL coached Reggie White, Bruce Smith and Demarcus Ware in their primes. "You put in tackles, assists, tackles for loss, hits on the quarterback, knockdowns and sacks, he had everything."

Only one of the 50 media members who voted for the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award didn't vote for Watt.
Me.


Two weeks later, Houston was trailing Buffalo 10-7 in the third quarter. The Bills were facing third-and-3 from the Texans' 12-yard line. Houston blitzed, and Watt jumped in front of an EJ Manuel pass, batted and intercepted the ball and ran 80 yards untouched into the end zone. Touchdown. The Texans won 23-17.

Then in Week 6, after spotting Indianapolis a 24-0 first-quarter lead, the Texans trailed 33-21 early in the fourth quarter. With the Colts facing third-and 12 from the Houston 45, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck fumbled the snap. Watt tried to fall on the football, but it bounced off his leg. Then he rolled over, untouched, picked it up and ran 45 yards into the end zone. Touchdown. The score pulled the Texans within a touchdown, but they lost 33-28.

"People are always like, 'Does it amaze you what he does?'" wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "I always tell them, 'No,' because you see some of the stuff he does in practice."

Said offensive tackle Duane Brown, "He gets his hands up all the time in practice to bat balls down. But the interception against Buffalo, and then to have the speed; they have some fast players on their offense, and nobody was close to catching him."

Phillips had seen it before. It was Watt's rookie year. The Texans were playing host to Cincinnati in a wild-card game. Late in the first half with the score tied, Cincinnati was at its own 34-yard line.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looked for A.J. Green but found Watt's hands instead. Interception. Touchdown. The Texans earned their first playoff victory in franchise history 31-10.

While watching the coaches' tape of the play on a computer screen, Phillips said: "See how close he is to the quarterback? That's the same thing he did against Buffalo. He jumps up and catches it. I mean receivers can't do that. The game was over after that."

"That was one of the best moments of my life," Watt said. "I think that's kind of when whatever I am now, whatever this crazy situation that I'm in now is, I think that's really the play that started it all."
This crazy situation is Watt's escalating fame. In the pantheon of Houston sports, his popularity is approaching that of Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell and Nolan Ryan.

Watt is in commercials. Fans knock on the door of his suburban Houston home. He can't go to the grocery store. He has to sneak in the back doors of restaurants to avoid being mobbed. Women routinely propose marriage.

"His popularity is soaring," longtime Houston Chronicle sportswriter John McClain said. "I'm one of the few who's been here for all of it, and his is getting close to theirs."

Before this season, Watt signed a six-year contract extension that included $51.8 million guaranteed, the most for a defensive player in NFL history.

People always ask, 'Man, why don't you come out and enjoy it? Why don't you celebrate?' ... Anybody can go to the club. You don't have to be good at going to the club to go to the club. You have to be good to be playing on Sundays.” — J.J. Watt

There is no hint of jealousy inside the Texans' locker room over Watt's salary, success or celebrity. Part of the reason is Watt's singular focus on football. He practically lives at the facility. He pores over film. He practices with the same intensity with which he plays.

Watt does not go out in Houston after wins. He doesn't party. Last year, Johnson coaxed him to a New Year's Eve bash he was throwing, and Watt was overrun by people wanting to take pictures with him.

"It got a little bit out of control," said Johnson, a star in his own right. "But it comes with the territory when you've done what he's done. You're watching football games on TV, and he's just about on every commercial. His face is out there. But that's a tribute to him and what he's done. He works his butt off, so he deserves everything."

There will be time for parties and bars, for dating and spending money and not monitoring every ounce of food and beverage he puts in his body -- later. Watt is about the now.
"You only get so many years to play this game, and success is so much fun, but it's so hard," Watt said. "It's so difficult to get that you have to devote every single thing that you have to it, and that means making tons and tons of sacrifices.

"Everybody talks about how badly they want to be great, but are you really willing at the end of the day to make all the sacrifices that you have to? I think so far I've been willing to make those, so that's why I've been successful, and I'm going to continue to because I love the feeling of success."
Watt paused.

"A sack is way better than any nightclub," he said. "A touchdown is way better than any bar experience I've ever had. I live for Sundays. I live for Mondays. I live for Thursdays.
"People always ask, 'Man, why don't you come out and enjoy it? Why don't you celebrate? Why don't you have any fun?' My fun is Sundays. Anybody can go to the club. You don't have to be good at going to the club to go to the club. You have to be good to be playing on Sundays, and to me, that's what's cool."

J.J Watt
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports
What can't Watt do? After making his first career TD catch against Oakland, the list is a short one.

Before fame and riches, Watt was a walk-on at Wisconsin who helped paint Camp Randall Stadium for spare change.

"One day I came in the office and he's painting doorways," said Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez. "He might be scraping paint. Whatever they had him do, that was his summer job."
After his freshman year at Central Michigan, Watt, a native of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, decided he wanted to transfer to Wisconsin. Then-coach Bret Bielema, now at Arkansas, met Watt and his parents. Watt's father, John, told Bielema, "My son is very special."

"I get it," Bielema said.

"No, you don't," John replied. "He's going to be one of the best to ever play the game."

Bielema welcomed Watt as a walk-on, and before long, Watt asked what a player had to do to earn a scholarship. Bielema told him: Become a starter or play significant snaps as a backup.

"I'll have a scholarship by the end of the spring," Watt told Bielema.

"And he did," Bielema said.

Watt has four sacks, 20 QB hurries, an interception, six passes defensed
and two forced fumbles in 2014. For good measure, he also
blocked an extra point. Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Watt played so well in 26 games for the Badgers from 2009 to 2010 that he declared for the NFL draft after his junior season. Watt wasn't Houston's first choice. The Texans wanted Missouri's Aldon Smith, but San Francisco drafted Smith seventh overall. In the Texans' draft room, there was discussion over whom to pick. Phillips lobbied for Watt, and Houston selected him 11th overall.

"I think some people didn't give J.J. as much credit for the talent he has," Phillips said. "Have you ever seen the box jump that he does? Take a look at it on YouTube. You can't believe how high he can jump and how much explosion he has to do that. He can run fast. He was 290 pounds. He's a really great athlete for his size. I don't think people gave him enough credit there. I think they realize it now."

Watt's image is carefully manicured but genuine. He said he's still just Connie and John Watt's son, Derek and T.J. Watt's brother, and a small-town kid from Wisconsin who just happens to be a multimillionaire.

Watt said his largest extravagance was buying his mom a Range Rover last month.
The inconvenience of drawing a crowd wherever he goes, be it a high school football game, a smoothie shop or a restaurant, is one Watt happily will live with.

"It's what you dream about as a kid," Watt said. "You dream about being that player that everybody sees. You're on commercials. You're scoring touchdowns. You're making plays. You're going to the stadium and people scream for you. You try to go to dinner and you can't because people want your picture and autograph. It's unbelievable. It's crazy.

"So I just stay at my house, and I come to work and that's it. Some people are like, 'Man, don't you get upset? Isn't it kind of a hassle that everybody wants to take your picture?' I say, 'When they stop, that means I'm not playing well. As long as they want to, that means I'm playing well, so I'll take it.'"

Watt won't say it, but he'd undoubtedly also take winning the NFL's Most Valuable Player award. Only two defensive players have done so: Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971 and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After what he's accomplished through six games, Watt is in the MVP discussion. "Wherever people want to put me in terms of voting for awards, at the end of the day that's their opinion," Watt said. "All I can do is go out there and put the best possible player on the football field, and then if they vote for me, they vote for me. If they don't, they don't. I can't control how they vote. You know that."
Yes, I do. All too well. — Ashley Fox | ESPN
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