Jason Witten played against the New York Giants a year ago, having been cleared only 24 hours before kickoff. Witten was given no chance to play in that season opener after lacerating his spleen Aug. 13, 2012, in a preseason game.
Witten was asked earlier this week if the doctor who cleared him had a medical degree. Laughter ensued, followed by jokes about the “I’m not a doctor, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night” commercials.
He can laugh about it now.
All Witten did was set the NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end and earn the Ed Block Courage Award.
Initially, though, Witten feared his career might be in jeopardy.
“Yeah, I think that the tough part for me was there wasn’t a timetable,” he said. “The first week, every morning, it was going from the room to the hospital in California to check your blood levels. It wasn’t about football.
“I will never forget I came out to [practice for] the walk-through, and everybody was like, ‘Why is he even out here?’ That’s when I realized, ‘Man, this might be a lot longer than what I was thinking.’ They didn’t really say a whole lot.
“…That was the hardest part for me was not knowing. Is this going to be two weeks or is this going to be two months? I never tried to think anything beyond that.”
Witten had two memorable games against the Giants last season on his way to 110 catches, 1,039 yards and three touchdowns.
It was Dr. O. Wayne Isom, the chairman of the department of cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, who OK’d Witten to play in the season opener at MetLife Stadium.
Witten played 48 of the team’s 61 offensive snaps. He had as many penalties (2) as catches and more penalty yards (15) than receiving yards (10).
Witten wasn’t the star, but he was the inspiration.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett repeatedly has said that the story of Witten begins with that game, a 24-17 upset victory.
“What he did in that game was remarkable, and what he did after that game, to me, was even more remarkable,” Garrett said.
Witten had only eight catches in the first three games but ended up topping Tony Gonzalez’s NFL tight ends record with 102 receptions over the final 13 games. That included 18 catches for 167 yards against the Giants at AT&T Stadium on Oct. 28.
“It was hard,” said Witten, now in his 11th season. “You talk about being mentally tough and being able to move on. It snowballed on me there for a couple of games, but once it clicked, you felt like you were getting in rhythm. You were back, and you had your confidence.
“Jason always talks about keeping a narrow focus and knowing you are going to come out on the other end.”
Giants safety Antre Rolle said earlier this week that Witten would not have 18 catches on Sunday, downplaying Witten’s record-setting performance by calling it “miraculous.”
Witten agrees with Rolle, pointing out the Cowboys fell behind 23-0 in the first half of that game.
“I probably won’t,” Witten said. “That was an interesting game. We were on a roll. Tony [Romo] and I were feeling good. We felt regardless of the coverage, we could find a completion.
“I was proud of our team the way we came back. You lose the game, and there is no such thing as moral victories, but the way we fought said a lot about our team.”