Mac Engel

Witten shows Cowboys fans how to be Romo loyalist and Dak backer

Shortly after the Dallas Cowboys eviscerated the Cleveland Browns, America’s Team team supporter LeBron James was busy stumping for Hillary Clinton around the block in downtown C-L-E.

About the only subject the two presidential candidates have not addressed in this insufferably long campaign season is the popular question: Tony or Dak?

While The Hill or The Hair would dance around such a subject, so too must the most famous Cowboy who is caught in the middle of this football love triangle between his BFF — Tony Romo — and the future — Dak Prescott.

Both for his production and professionalism, tight end Jason Witten is the best Cowboy this century and now he must handle this delicate balance, too.

It’s another reason the Cowboys, Romo, Dak and Jason Garrett should thank God for Jason Witten every day — he makes everybody’s life easier without trying. And evidenced by his eight receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, the man can still play, too.

Unlike a political candidate who dodges questions, Witten sounds sincere as he tries to acknowledge his feelings for his close friend against the needs of the team.

And if those two realities can coexist peacefully for Witten, they should for every other Cowboy, too.

Romo is Witten’s bestest BFF, so I asked him if the outside perception that his close friendship has made The Dak Knight Rising uncomfortable.

“First of all, Tony and my relationship is one of the things I’ve enjoyed — coming in as a rookie and going our entire careers together,” Witten said after the Cowboys’ 35-10 win over the horrendously awful Cleveland Browns. “To be able to see each other grow as men, husbands and fathers in the community is something I’ve enjoyed.

“For this situation, the entire team, how we’ve approached this, it’s not about one or the other. It’s simply about what is going to allow us to win moving forward. Those decisions are not for me to make. I’m one of his best friends and I’ll continue to be that way. Dak, I’ll never say anything that undermines him and what he’s been able to do as a player. That’s my job as a leader and a captain.”

And I asked him if he felt compromised — to remain loyal to his team and his best friend, who had been the starting quarterback since 2006 — against whatever decision the team might make.

“I don’t feel that way at all,” he said. “That’s a testament to both of them in how they have approached it. ... I can’t say enough good things about Dak and what he’s done. I don’t find myself in a tough situation.”

Because it is a man the players affectionately call “Old Man Wit,” the answer sounds believable; you can’t find a time when Witten has placed anything above his team. Ever.

Even when the Cowboys signed Greg Hardy last season, there was Witten — ever the good soldier — participating in team and community service events against domestic violence.

Because of Witten’s ability and interest in being a leader and a role model, he has been as equally as valuable as Romo, even though he is a tight end.

Although Romo is a tremendous professional and a good person, he never really wanted to be vocal or visible in the locker room, or off the field. He cared and was always a dedicated pro, but he wanted to enjoy fame more than he wanted to do the other stuff.

Witten, however, did it all.

If you want to understand why coach Jason Garrett never lost his team despite a sometimes ish record, look at Witten.

Teams will follow the highest paid, most productive players, and Witten’s insistence of being a team guy and blindly supporting the head coach has helped Coach Process immeasurably.

There was a reason Garrett choked up in the locker room last week after the win against the Philadelphia Eagles in pointing out Witten setting the franchise record for career starts with the Cowboys.

“He never misses a game or a practice and you would not expect a 14-year guy to not miss a rep of practice,” guard Zack Martin said. “And going out every single rep he’s in there. He’s a great example for our team.”

For how much longer we can guess — not too much. He is 34 and in his 14th NFL season.

“He’s still a puppy in real life,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “He’s just starting his life.”

Jerry is right, and Witten can’t play forever. Or maybe he can; as evidenced against the Browns, he’s not a washed-up bum.

God knows the team has tried to groom a replacement for him; neither Martellus Bennett nor Gavin Escobar — both second-round picks — was capable of moving him off his position as the starter, and certainly not his place within the franchise or community.

Like Romo, Witten has never advanced out of the NFC divisional playoffs and if any player deserves a chance to at least play in a Super Bowl, it’s Jason Witten.

Since he came to the team in 2003, he has handled everything like a pro and done so effortlessly, up to and including a love triangle between the young, hot quarterback and his best friend.

But if Jason Witten is OK with it, the rest of us should be, too.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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