We may now be left only with the memories of what J.J. Watt once was.
And another reminder that NFL players are always just one play away from losing the skills that made them what they were.
We may remember Watt as a defensive Gale Sayers or Terrell Davis, two Hall of Famers who were like meteors in their careers. They flashed so brightly and then were struck down cruelly by devastating injuries.
For five years, Watt was in a league of his own. Three Defensive MVP awards. Two 20-sack seasons. The Houston Texans star was so versatile he caught three touchdown passes in 2014.
And he became an icon in Houston and across the nation, the kind of star the NFL desperately needs as it copes with declining TV ratings.
When the floods hit Houston, Watt tweeted that he wanted to start a fund to collect $200,000. Before he closed it down, he had collected $37 million.
We expected that Watt would have three to five years of great seasons ahead of him.
He missed all but three games last year with a back injury, but we thought he would recover.
Instead, he didn’t appear to be the same Watt this year. He didn’t have a sack for the first four games, although he had 11 pressures.
And then Sunday night, he was being blocked and came down awkwardly on his left knee and suffered what the Texans said was a tibial plateau fracture.
Frankly, I’d never heard of that, but doctors say it can be worse than a torn ACL. And an MRI could show he suffered even more damage.
Watt will likely miss the rest of the season, and even if he comes back next year, what are the odds of him being close to what he was?
He might be an average or above-average player, but not the J.J. Watt we once knew.
His absence will be a devastating blow for the Houston defense, which also lost Whitney Mercilius for the season. And Brian Cushing is out with a suspension.
It is beyond ironic that just when the Texans have found their quarterback of the future in Deshaun Watson, they’ve lost the heart of the defense that has carried them in recent years.
But Watt’s injury is not only a loss for the Texans, it’s a loss for football fans who will miss seeing how he could take over a game.
Future defensive stars will be compared to him.