Jason Witten will return to The Star tomorrow for the first time since retiring after 15 seasons playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
It will be an emotional moment, Witten said, perhaps even more than his first time going back to AT&T Stadium. That happens Monday when Witten will call his first Cowboys’ game as part of ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast team.
Witten’s first season in the booth hasn’t gone as smooth as his former teammate Tony Romo’s transition the previous year and critics, including social media snipers, have mocked some of his growing pains. Witten, of course, has heard the jokes, and to his credit, has shown a knack for self-deprecation.
“Even though you hear the noise — and anybody who says they don’t they’re probably not telling the truth — I don’t allow it to affect me because I feel like I’m going to be my own worst critic in those situations,” he said during a conference call with Cowboys’ media members.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
Witten has poked fun at himself for misstating idioms such as “pulling a rabbit out of his hat” that have gone viral on the Internet.
“So when I say ‘pull a rabbit out of his head’ instead of rabbit out of his hat well obviously I wasn’t trying to say head,” he said. “All you can do is self-deprecate and move forward. I’m not going to be perfect but I think over time if you listen, you win them over by saying, ‘man, the guy is sharing a lot of football with us that we didn’t necessarily know.’”
Witten says it was clear working two preseason games that it would take some time to learn how to assimilate his voice in a three-man booth. He is getting better at explaining football mechanics for a wide-ranging TV audience and knowing when to speak up and when to pipe down. One of the toughest transitions, he said, was realizing that the viewers aren’t all on the same page as him back when he was watching game film with coaches and teammates.
“I knew it was going to be a work-in-progress. I would never walk into something like that and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be on this level from minute 1,” he said. “I kind of went into it knowing that it was a long-game approach so I knew it was going to take time to flip that narrative going into it.”
Romo was revered so quickly for the giddy excitement and knack for predicting the next play that he brought to the booth that Witten has been maligned by a perhaps unfair comparison.
“I remember the first practice game we called the producer said in my ear, ‘Hey, listen, that’s really awesome, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ I think early on that happened a little bit for me,” he said. “You can’t try to be someone you’re not.”