Dallas Cowboys great Jason Witten called it a career on Thursday. He walked away from the game with 1,152 catches, 12,448 receiving yards, 68 touchdowns, 11 Pro Bowls and many other accolades.
Here's Witten in his own words on retiring and heading to "ESPN's Monday Night Football" broadcast booth. A full transcript of his 16-minute speech is here:
"First off I just want to thank everybody for being here on short notice. Certainly these last few days have been a difficult time for me and challenging, but I do appreciate you and want to share a few words if I can.
In April 2003, about two weeks shy of my 21st birthday, after being selected in the third round, I arrived in Dallas for the rookie minicamp.
My first practice, [coach Bill] Parcells didn’t say a lick to me. Then on the final day of that minicamp, about halfway through the practice, he looked at me and said in a way only Bill can, 'If you trust me, I know the formula for tight ends.'
I gave him a nod, said 'Yes sir,' the way my granddaddy taught me, finished the camp and then spent all summer back in Tennessee thinking about what Bill had said.
I couldn’t wait to get back to training camp and discover this formula. So I went to training camp, and other than a few colorful butt chewings directed my way, I realized Bill wasn’t as eager to share that formula.
At that point, I wasn’t sure if he thought my name was some expletive or wimp. We get to October playing the Arizona Cardinals, it’s the fourth quarter, I catch a pass over the middle and was hit immediately by Ronald McKinnon and Ray Thompson. The kind of pain I didn’t even know existed, I had broken my jaw. Right after the game I had surgery, three plates put in my jaw. Spent a couple days in the hospital, and now it was Wednesday morning, I’m in the training room, learning how to basically eat through the straw, and Bill walks in, looks at me and says, 'I had a tight end up in New York. He had one of those jaws. Mark Bavaro, he missed one game. I’m just telling you the best ones, they find a way. And listen to me Witten, look at me now - you have to realize that I’ve been waiting for this moment for quite some time, I just didn’t realize it would happen when I was laid up with a broken jaw - he says 'durability and dependability, in this league, in this business, it’s invaluable.' And I never forgot that.
For the past 15 years, every practice, every film session, every notebook I filled, every ounce of sweat, I did so because my love and drive of the game of football. And tried my absolute best to be dependable. Dependable to my teammates, to my coaches, to my family, and to all those who were cheering us on. I don’t know if I ever perfected that formula, but I do know I gave it everything I had.
When my time as a Dallas Cowboys football player is over, I can only hope the men and women in these hallways will say, 'That was a fine and decent man, tried to do things the right way,' and that I was dependable.
There’s an old saying in pro football, the circus doesn't stay in town forever. And when you're young, I think it takes on a meaning that when your opportunity comes, grab it. And as you get older, I think you realize there’s a deeper meaning. No man knows when his time has come to walk away, and I’m no different.
It's been said, whether right or wrong, better three hours too soon than a minute too late. The man who insists on seeing the perfect clearness before he decides, he never decides. Accept life, and you cannot accept regret.
After much self-reflection, prayer and faith, today I’ve decided that the time has come for me to pass the torch to the next generation of Dallas Cowboys and retire from the National Football League.
I was never the most talented, never the flashiest. I relied on grit. Other players might have been more talented, but I can assure you no one was going to outwork me.
Whenever young kids come up to me and ask me, 'How do you grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys and have that type of career?' My answer was always the same: the secret is in the dirt.
I learned early on in my life, through many challenges, that I can change my circumstances with hard work, but I’d have to be willing to go out and earn it.
The sheer concentration that is required to pursue a dream, you see it's not for everyone, but it was for me. I yearned for the daily grind, and I couldn't get enough of it.
With that, I never allowed my mind to drift to a place to think what this day would look like for me. I never wanted this day to come. But it does come for all of us.
My mindset has always been that they’d probably have to drag me off the field, and I was OK with that.
There is scripture in the good book, Colossians 3:23, I used to reference a lot throughout my career. ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart. Work at it for the Lord.’ I certainly realized how fortunate I was to be dealt a good hand from the good Lord above.
I certainly realized just how fortunate I was to be dealt an awfully good hand by the good Lord above.
To all the Dallas Cowboys fans around the world, for 15 years I tried to represent you the right way, bring you joy and win you a championship, and while I leave today falling short of that mark, I hope that along the way I made you proud to be a Dallas Cowboys fan.
During the high times and low times, the hand written notes I would receive in the mail from around the world, military bases to hospitals and Pop Warner leagues…please know how much that meant to me and inspired me. It was never lost on me the responsibility that is bestowed on as a member of the NFL and certainly the Dallas Cowboys.
To all my teammates over the years, I know I was demanding. I know there were many days you wanted to pop me really good. I hope you know it was because I cared.
I know that as the years pass, the catches, the yards, the touchdowns, all that will fade. But won’t ever go away is that feeling, that brotherhood in the locker room. Every day when my car pulls into the facility I got that knot in my stomach. Not because I was anxious or worried; it happened because I knew when I walked in, I was going to challenge myself, my teammates, my coaches and the entire organization to get better every day. I also got that feeling because of you guys, my teammates. I never wanted to let you down.
The locker room, those bonds that we have, that drives you. When I arrived here in 2003, little did I know the types of guys I would be able to meet. Many times over the years I would wake up in the morning, jump out of bed and catch myself saying, ‘How lucky am I?’ To be able to play the game of football for the Dallas Cowboys and learn from guys like Darren Woodson, Larry Allen, Dat Nguyen. To the guys I spent most of this ride with -- DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Sean Lee, Orlando Scandrick, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Marc Colombo, Doug Free and so many more -- I am forever grateful to you.
To the young bucks who are, Dak Prescott, Zeke Elliott, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford, Jeff Heath, D-Law [DeMarcus Lawrence]. You men energized me. These last four or five years have been special. I am proud of what we did together. Now it's your turn to lead. I know you are ready. You have earned that right and respect. I challenge you to take it to the next level and do it in a way that makes all of us proud.
To the Dallas Cowboys players who came before me. You guys are the standard. Guys like Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Drew Pearson, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston ... the list goes on. I say thank you. I tried my darndest to make you proud.
To my quarterback, Tony Romo, it happens over a long period of time all of a sudden, doesn't it? From the first day on that bus in 2003 only in our wildest dreams could we have imagined what the next 15 years of our lives would look like. Tony, I would not have become the player I did without you. Thank you.
To all the Cowboys personnel and staff, Jim [Mauer], Britt [Brown], Greg [Gaither], Mike [McCord], Bucky [Buchanan], Joe Juraszek, Iron Mike [Woicik], [Brett] Bech, you kept me put together for 15 years. I know I was a pain in your you know what many mornings and late nights. I certainly know the sacrifices each of you made for me to stay on the field and only miss one game over the course of my career. I hope you guys know how much you mean to me and and how much I’ll miss you.
To Rich [Dalrymple], Emily [Robbins], Marylyn [Love] and so many others in the support staff, you guys know who you are. Thank you for working tirelessly on my behalf.
To my trusted counsel over the years, Jimmy Sexton, coach [Phil] Fulmer, Scott Sexton, Ryan Altizer, thank you.
To all of my coaches throughout the years, I salute you. At home, I can assure you I have filled hundreds of notebooks from over the years. Each of those has input and philosophies from all of you that I have used as a tremendous resource and gained an advantage against my opponent throughout my career. And I appreciate your sacrifice and commitment to me on the daily grind to allow me to go out there on Sunday and be the best on the field.
To Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, and Jason Garrett. I am grateful for the impact and influence that you’ve had on my career, and I will carry those with me the rest of my life.
Coach Garrett -- We bonded because of our love for this great game and the respect that we have for it. The past 11 years, you were never afraid to dial up that Y-option on third-and-6 and keep it coming, baby. You had an unwavering belief in me the entire way. I simply say thank you.
To the family of Jerry Jones. Mama Gene, you are the example of benevolence. Stephen, Karen, Charlotte and Shy, Jerry Junior and Lori, as I have grown up here, the impact that you have had on my family and me, I can’t put into words what an honor it was to represent all of you on that field and off of it as well. Thank you.
Jerry, you have always been a father figure in my life. From you, I even learned to never circumcise the mosquito.
I referenced the last few days have been challenging for me. The hardest part of this decision was knowing that I would never be able to hand you that Lombardi Trophy. When I told you back in 2006 that I would not let you down, I hope that in your eyes I held up my end of the bargain.
To my family. To my mom, my brothers Shawn and Ryan, we’ve came a long way, haven't we? Not bad for three kids from Elizabethton, Tennessee, who would turn the car lights on at night to throw the ball around, mom would be begging us to come back inside. Thank you for your sacrifices.
To my grandparents, Dave and Deanna. Thank you for the example you set. No question I would not be on this stage today if it weren’t for you.
Pap, every Sunday I tried to make you proud. If I did that, I knew I was playing the right way.
To my wife, Michelle, who’s been with me every step of the way. Out of all the big decisions I’ve made in my life, marrying you has been far and away the best thing that has ever happened to me. Thank you for being our rock and all the sacrifices you have made daily. I love you.
To my children, C.J., Cooper, Landry and Hadley, one of my greatest accomplishments is that I had the opportunity to play long enough so that you all could experience this journey. It is my hope that the way that I have played this game will be instilled in you and encourage you and help you to chase your own dreams.
Being able to be the best father I can be to you is and will always be the greatest honor I could ever receive. I love you guys.
Lastly, to all the young players and coaches out there. I hope that I showed to you that, yes, you can do things the right way, be a leader in your community, be a gentleman, hand the ball to the official after you score a touchdown and show good sportsmanship and still be a really good football player.
Somewhere along the way - and this is so easy to get lost. We’re all focused on results and they are important— but what you learn as you get older is that the journey is the reward.
If I’ve learned anything along the way in the last 15 years, it's that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people won't forget how you made them feel.
We do good, upright things because we want to leave a positive legacy in our wake. That is certainly what I tried my best to do during my time with this organization.
I will leave you with this:
There aren’t many decisions that come with absolute certainty.
But I can tell you one thing that is certain, putting on the white jersey, that silver helmet with the navy star, seeing your name on the back of the jersey and running onto that field, as a member of America’s Team, it brings a certainty of pride and honor.
The kind of certainty that comes but once in a lifetime to be a Dallas Cowboy.