The NFL opted Wednesday to cancel Thursday's preseason game between the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, because the Texans will be able to return home to their families in Houston sooner than anticipated.
The Texans said in a statement that they will drive home on Wednesday after finding a safe travel route, despite the effects of Hurricane Harvey.
"At this time, the priority of our organization is getting our players, coaches and staff back home to be reunited with their families, many of whom have been evacuated from their homes and are currently sheltered," the team said. "The team feels it is imperative to get back home to help the Houston community recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey."
"... It was a shout of joy when we announced we were going home. I think everyone wants to get there." Texans general manager Rick Smith
Texans general manager Rick Smith said the Texans' Week 1 game will be played as scheduled at NRG Stadium.
"Nothing has to happen. The game is at NRG. It's scheduled to be played in NRG, so it will be played in NRG," he said.
Smith said there were shouts of joy when he told the players the game was cancelled and they were heading home.
"I've been increasingly impressed with them as we've dealt with all the things we've had to deal with over the last couple of days. And the way they have been resilient, and the way they have maintained their focus during practice and being pros. But it was a shout of joy when we announced we were going home. I think everyone wants to get there," he said.
Defensive end J.J. Watt said: "It was subdued joy, because we're obviously extremely sensitive to the situation.
"But I think guys just want to see their wives, guys just want to see their kids, guys want to see their families. So it's going to be a very nice thing just to get back and be able to embrace their families and everybody can see that each other is safe. And then we can start that rebuilding process."
Tickets for the Texans-Cowboys game went on sale Tuesday night, and more than 40,000 have been sold, with the proceeds going to the hurricane relief fund. Those who have purchased tickets to the game can get a refund; if not, the money will still go to the relief fund. The Texans said in their statement that the McNair family, which owns the team, "will make a donation equal to the money that would have been generated from ticket sales."
The game had been moved from the Texans' NRG Stadium to the Cowboys' home stadium earlier this week because of the massive flooding in Houston.
"I think there's more important things than football right now," Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said from the Cowboys' kickoff luncheon. "Houston being able to get home and see their families is a big deal."
"Know that they're probably anxious to get home and see their families and just assess the situation," said Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. "I said it a couple days ago, but this is bigger than football."
Witten had put up his suite at AT&T Stadium for auction to benefit the Houston Area Women's Center and said he would make sure the proceeds would still go to the shelter, even with the game canceled.
The Texans have been in the Dallas area since early Sunday morning after flying directly from their preseason game in New Orleans. The team has been practicing at the Cowboys' facility in Frisco, Texas, this week.
"I think it's the right decision," Watt said of the decision to cancel the game. "Everybody here is obviously most concerned about their families, their friends, the City of Houston back home. So I think it's extremely important that we get home as quickly as we possibly can. I know we're all very excited to get there and see our people, but also start helping."
This weekend Watt set up an online fundraiser to raise money for flood relief in Houston. As of Wednesday afternoon, the fund had raised more than $6 million. He also raised the goal of the fundraiser to $10 million.
Watt began the fundraiser on Sunday with an initial donation of $100,000 and setting the goal for $200,000.
There were discussions on whether to also cancel Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter, but the Saints announced the game will go on as scheduled.
ESPN's Todd Archer contributed to this report.