Ryan Griffin has looked forward to playing in a lot of football games but Sunday's 1 p.m. contest against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium ranks near the top.
The Londonderry, New Hampshire native and former UConn standout tight end will be playing in his first game since sustaining a concussion in Week 1.
And it will be another opportunity for him to play for Houston something the entire Texans team is into for city and area residents reeling from the destruction dealt by Hurricane Harvey late last month.
This is Griffin's fifth season in the league, all with Houston. And never had he seen the city look the way it does now.
"We had very minor damage from the Hurricane where I live, my house wasn't affected too much by it but the neighborhoods around me you could really see people's lives out on the front yard, really," Griffin said by phone Thursday."They threw everything away with the rain and the floods and everything, you drive around and the city and see the people struggling. It is tough. The Texans set up a couple of events I attended you see evacuees living on cots. I mean it was really eye-opening stuff to see the struggling so, we're playing for the city really. I've been here five years and never seen anything like this. It's important to give people who are struggling a chance to smile. It's unfortunate but the media really isn't talking about it anymore. It's still pretty bad here."
Griffin said he contributed to teammate J.J. Watt's Hurricane Harvey relief fund which raised $37 million and closed down Friday so money could start being distributed right away. All the players have at least given some of their time to listen to the evacuees and displaced.
Jordan Todman, another UConn standout and Griffin's teammate on UConn's 2010-11 team, signed with the Texans in late August just as the hurricane was making landfall.
"Coming in I was able to see what had been taken away from these people, what they had to live with," said Todman, a native of New Bedford, Mass. "It's only normal to put yourself in their shoes and ask 'what if that was me?'. You see a family, a husband, wife and their child hurting in this situation. I've never seen anything like it but you plug yourself in their shoes. You're blessed and happy that you're safe but…I really feel bad for them."
Harvey was the first hurricane rated as a Category 3 or higher to make landfall in the United States in 12 years. More than 40 inches of rain fell in some areas over a four-day period as the system hung over eastern Texas and nearby waters that caused flooding. More than 30,000 were reportedly displaced.
The NFL canceled the Texans' Thursday night preseason game at Dallas Aug. 31 the day before (it was originally scheduled for Houston's NRG Stadium but was moved because of the Hurricane) because the players were able to get home to their families earlier than anticipated. The Texans were in Dallas since Sunday Aug. 27, the day after the Saints game because they couldn't get back to Houston. The airports were closed.
"We just flew into Dallas and were using their facilities but when we got back home, yeah, you saw the devastation as we were pulling," said Griffin, who signed a three-year, $9 million extension earlier this year.
The 6-foot-6 inch Griffin, who has caught 99 passes for 1,028 yards and six touchdowns for the Texans, can't wait to play for Houston Sunday. He sustained a concussion in the first quarter of a season-opening 29-7 loss to the Jaguars. He wasn't cleared for last Thursday's 13-9 win over the Bengals last week.
"Personally, I can't wait, especially against New England," said Griffin UConn's Offensive MVP in 2012. "But as a team, we're dedicating this season to the people of Houston which I'm glad we're doing."
Todman, who joined the team in New Orleans, doesn't have the connection to Houston Griffin does, but has still offered a helping hand. The Texans are the eighth team the 2010 Big East Offensive Player of the Year been on since he was drafted by the Chargers in the sixth round six years ago but an event such as a hurricane has a way of drawing all kinds of people closer.
"I got a chance to talk to a lot of people, just trying to cheer them up, sign some things, whatever you can do to bring a smile to their faces. I'm part of this community now, so…"