Dak Prescott can’t envision life without Jason Witten.
Neither can most within the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room.
Witten has been a staple in this organization for the past 15 years, and he’s the unquestioned leader of the team. Coaches and players always point to No. 82 as a guy to follow, a guy who does everything the right way.
“To even think about that (Witten retiring), honestly I don’t even want to think about that,” Prescott said. “He’s a helluva player and a guy that’s been huge in my growth in this league.
“My plan is to hope he comes back and to plan for him to come back.”
The good news for Prescott and the Cowboys is they don’t have to worry about Witten calling it a career quite yet. Witten reiterated his intentions on Thursday to continue playing for a 16th season in 2018.
“I still feel the same way,” Witten said. “I haven’t had a ton of time to process the season and what’s taken place, but I still believe I feel too good and see too many positives to I think I can still play at that level that I expect to play at and they expect me to play at here. So that’s fully my intentions moving forward.”
Witten acknowledged that his desire to play is strictly to make another run at a Super Bowl. He’s gone 2-6 in playoff games and has never been on a team that advanced past the NFC divisional round.
He’ll be at home during the playoffs for the ninth time in 15 years this off-season, but the desire to compete for a championship hasn’t faded. He sees the Cowboys as legitimate contenders going into next season.
“Since Day 1, the only thing I was focused on is winning,” Witten said. “Along the way, I’ve been humbled at some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish and the men that I’ve been able to join just because I have so much respect for this game. But it was never about that. It was always about trying to compete and win a championship for this organization and the guys I get to do it with.
“That’s certainly the only thing that motivates me every single day when my car pulls in. That’s why I still get that feeling in my stomach when I come into work every day because I know what the standard is for me to perform day in and day out. That drives me.”
Witten, who turns 36 in the off-season, is still a productive player. He has 61 catches for 543 yards and five touchdowns this season. He’s played 982 of 1,000 offensive snaps so far, including every snap in 10 of 15 games.
“To me, he has not diminished very much at all over the time I’ve been around him,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s just an excellent football player. Takes care of his body. Does a great job preparing for every aspect of the game. He brings it every day.”
Witten takes pride in the grind of a season and proving it day in, day out.
Witten referenced a scene in Bull Durham where Crash Davis rips pitcher Nuke LaLoosh for having fungus on his shower shoes, saying: “If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”
“Really what it’s talking about is every day you have to go show that and that’s what’s expected of you,” Witten said.
Witten has more than proven “20 in the show” throughout his career.
He has etched his place in the Cowboys’ record books. He’s the franchise’s leader in receptions (1,150), receiving yards (12,431), games played (238), games started (228) and consecutive games with a reception (130), among others.
He’ll start his 229th game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, the team he has more receiving yards against (1,625) than any other opponent in his career.
If Witten called it a career after the season, he’d almost be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Along with the Cowboys’ records, he’s one of 14 players in the 1,000-catch club and sits fourth on the all-time list with 1,150. Only Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez and Larry Fitzgerald have caught more passes in their careers.
Witten’s impact off the field is in tact, too. He’s won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award and he’s the namesake for college football’s Man of the Year award that will announce its inaugural winner in February.
Even with his legacy seemingly in tact, Witten isn’t ready to follow in the footsteps of some of his friends such as Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Doug Free. He’s still chasing an elusive championship and hopes to avoid being on the list of great players who never won a Super Bowl such as Gonzalez, Dan Marino and LaDainian Tomlinson.
But Witten is aware that his career may not have a Hollywood ending even though the script isn’t finished yet.
“It doesn’t always happen that way where you get these fairytales,” Witten said. “I understand that. That’s why I try to not make it about that, more about what I can do to help get us there.
“With that passion and drive that I still have at a really high level, that’s why I make the decision that I want to be a part of this group.”
Cowboys at Eagles
Noon Sunday, KDFW/4