J.J. Watt seems to be leaning toward Pittsburgh Steelers fandom more and more these days. And why not? Since he retired, the future Hall of Famer holds no allegiance to his former employers, and his little brother T.J. Watt is on the Steelers.
On May 4, 2023, Jersey Jerry (Steelers mega-fan turned Barstool celebrity) tweeted a digitally altered photo (credited to @DanielBank7) of J.J. Watt, who never played for the Steelers, donning the Black & Gold. Watt responded, “Those are some bad ass uniforms. Bring back the block numbers tho.”
Steelers fans have long been vocal about reverting to the historic block numbers that Pittsburgh wore for 63 years. There’s even an online petition supporting the cause. The only years they didn’t wear block numbers in that span (1943, 1944) was during World War II when the Steelers and Eagles merged to form the Steagles, and the Steelers and Chicago Cardinals merged to form the Card-Pitts.
According to a Steelers uniform history on Steelers.com, the team began putting numbers on jerseys in 1934 — their second season of existence. While they went through several design iterations, including the 1966-1967 “Batman” style, the block-style font that fans grew to know and love for decades remained until Nike took over NFL uniform production in 1997 and the Steelers switched to current round-style italic numbers.
The block-numbered threads are gloriously donned a couple of times a year in the form of their “throwback jersey” (classic style and color rush), but team president and owner Art Rooney II doesn’t plan on his team wearing them full-time.
Mike Tomlin Asks J.J. Watt to Come to Pittsburgh
Steelers fans are not only pounding their chests for the return of the retro block numbers, but they’re also pounding their chests to bring another Watt to Pittsburgh — a battle that has been lost.
The team is down to just one Watt (that’s really all you need!), as fullback Derek Watt, whom the Steelers paid $10 million to play on special teams, is no longer with the team. Don’t be surprised if that doesn’t last long, but “there’s been no movement” to re-sign the 30-year-old special teams ace. And right now, offensive coordinator Matt Canada seems content with moving second-year Swiss Army knife Connor Heyward to fullback.
“It’s the comparison, [Heyward is] the younger guy coming in to take my role. It’s not what it is,” Derek Watt told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in June 2022. “He’s a great kid. He brings a lot to the table, and he’s with the tight ends. He’s trying to find a role in this offense for himself. I’m trying to expand my role. We’ll see what happens.”
I guess we know what happens. Unless they make a late offseason move to re-acquire Watt on a much cheaper price tag than in 2020, we’ve seen the last of the Watt brothers in Pittsburgh.
Signing J.J. Watt has long been a quest of Steelers faithful since (at least) his first and only go-round with free agency in 2021. Instead, he opted to sign a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. As the end of his stay in the desert became more imminent, Steelers Nation again pulled for the eldest Watt to come to Pittsburgh.
But T.J. Watt told Still Curtain’s Tommy Jaggi in February 2023 that J.J. was set on retiring. “It might have been more realistic when he was going through free agency the first time, but obviously, not as much this time around just because he was set on retirement, and I’m never going to question my brother’s desires,” T.J. Watt said of his brother joining the Steelers. “It’s funny because we were just talking, obviously, I knew he was retiring before everybody else did in the mainstream media. But he just kept saying how he didn’t feel very emotional.”
Most recently, on May 5, 2023, Mike Tomlin invited Watt to visit Pittsburgh. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year replied to the coach’s social video on the Steelers’ interest in siblings and said he’d like to visit sometime. “Would love to have you come to the facility,” Tomlin replied. “You are welcome anytime.”