ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texans headed home to flood-ravaged Houston after their final preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys was canceled Wednesday.
“We’ve got several members of our travel party — our coaches, our players, our staff members — whose families have been evacuated,” general manager Rick Smith said. “There is so much devastation in the city and the region and we want to be part of the recovery process.”
The game scheduled for Thursday night had been moved from Houston to the home of the Cowboys because of widespread flooding in the Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The decision to cancel the game altogether was announced when the Texans said local authorities had found a safe route for the team to drive the 250 miles home.
Smith said Wednesday was the first day they had the option to return to Houston and the team felt it was better to go home than to try and play a game Thursday.
“When it became available to us, we’ve got so many guys on the team that are distracted by all the events and the circumstances that it became increasingly more difficult from our perspective to go out and try to play a football game,” Smith said. “And I’m not sure it would have been fair to do so. So when the opportunity arose today that we had a safe route to get home [we] made the decision to cancel the game.”
After the Texans played their preseason game in New Orleans last weekend, they went to North Texas instead of home after the storm. The Texans worked out Monday and Tuesday at the Cowboys’ practice facility.
Smith wasn’t sure when the Texans would resume practice, but said that NRG Stadium wasn’t damaged in the storm and that their opener there on Sept. 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars would go on as planned.
“We’re hurting, Houston is hurting, but we’re strong,” Smith said. “We’ve been there over a decade and we are part of the fabric of the community.”
Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt was pleased with the decision to cancel the game and get back to Houston.
“I think it’s the right decision,” he said. “Everybody here is obviously most concerned about their families, their friends, the city of Houston back home. I think it’s extremely important that we get home as quickly as we possibly can.”
Watt almost didn’t know to react to the stunning growth of his flood relief fundraising effort, which started with a web page and a video Sunday. Since then, he’s been offering video updates as the total climbed over $6 million. The original goal was $200,000.
“We’ve upped the goal to $10 million because everything is bigger in Texas,” he said. “Why not? Let’s shoot for $10 million and see what we can do.”
Watt added that he has trucks filled with supplies that he expects to arrive in Houston by this weekend.
“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 supplies,” he said.
Watt said he’s been moved by watching people help out in the crisis so far and is looking forward to pitching in.
“It’s been extremely difficult to watch,” he said. “But it’s also been unbelievably motivational to see firefighters, policeman. Everyday citizens out in boats helping each other out … it’s an unbelievable thing to witness what happens in a time of crisis. The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity.”
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and most of the starters for both teams wouldn’t have played in the preseason finale, and Witten said he was happy the Texans were going home.
“I know they’re probably anxious to get home and see their families, just assess the situation,” Witten said. “These guys have a great opportunity and platform to go back and check on their own families and get involved in the community and rally in a lot of ways.”
The Cowboys will practice Thursday night at 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium. The workout will be closed to the public, but will be part of a telethon with a local TV station to raise money for Harvey recovery efforts. Some fans who call in will get to talk to Dallas players.
“We told our team at the outset of the week that it might be a funny week given the circumstances that they’re going through down in Houston,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’re not going to play the game. It’s easy to see why. Now we just have to adjust.”