Tight end Jason Witten first visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. He’ll go again next week when the Dallas Cowboys play Miami in the Hall of Fame Game.
Five years or so after retirement, Witten hopes for a permanent place in Canton.
“Jason has done enough to merit a place,” Hall of Famer Michael Irvin said Wednesday. “I measure men on distance traveled. Look at where Jason came from to where he is. Look at what he consistently does.
“Everyone knows. Every year we say, ‘Oh, that’s [Tony Romo’s] security blanket.’ Yet, they don’t stop him from securing Tony. These are things that you measure a man with. We’re all trying to stop him, and we can’t stop him. They’ve been doing that about Jason Witten forever.”
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Witten ranks third in NFL history among tight ends for catches (806) and yards (8,948). Yet, tight ends historically have a hard time entering Canton.
Only eight modern-era tight ends own Hall of Fame busts, and two were veteran inductees. No tight ends have earned enshrinement the past 10 years.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who vows this is his last year after setting every tight end record, has next. Could Witten follow?
Witten considered that possibility during his tour of Canton as he paid special attention to the busts of tight ends Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow.
“You do think about that,” Witten said. “I’ve got a long way to go. I feel humbled to even be having this conversation, because I know how great those guys were. They’re the reason this game is what it is today. I have so much respect for that.
“Obviously, you hope one day that can happen. No question. Those are the best of the best.”
At 31, and in his 11th season, Witten still has time to add to his Ring of Honor résumé, which already includes eight Pro Bowls and a place at the top of the Cowboys’ record book for career receptions ahead of Irvin.
“For the amount of years he’s been in the league, he’s still a young player,” Cowboys tight ends coach Wes Phillips said. “He came in the league as a young player. He was 20 years old when he came in. It’s just a testament to how he works, how he takes care of his body.
“He’s a real pro. He does all kinds of things to keep himself ready. He has hyperbaric chambers and ultrasound spas. He’s got all kinds of stuff just to keep himself fresh and to keep himself young. I see him improving this year from last year.”
Every Hall of Famer has a signature game, and when Witten’s name comes up for debate, he will have last year’s season opener against the New York Giants. He played 23 days after lacerating his spleen, having been cleared on the eve of the game.
Witten had as many penalties as catches (2) and more penalty yards (15) than receiving yards (10), but he served as the team’s inspiration in enhancing his “tough guy” image.
He ended the year setting an NFL record for tight ends (110).
“At some point, he’s going to be introduced to recognize the greatness of his career,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The story I would tell is the story about the New York Football Giants game last year to open our season. ... What he did in that game was remarkable, and what he did after that game to me was even more remarkable.
“He wasn’t himself in the early part of the season for obvious reasons. He hadn’t practiced in about four or five weeks, and to play in an NFL football game, that’s hard to do regardless how many games you played in before that. But he just was remarkable to watch, understanding that he knew he wasn’t at his best, but watching him play through the whole thing. And then for him to go on and maybe had the best year he’s ever had in his career, the most productive in terms of receptions, just the kind of player he was for us, it was really amazing.
“It had a lot to do with his ability but more to do with the kind of person he is.”