Mac Engel

Witten's expected retirement prompts Bunyan-esque tales

A look back at Jason Witten’s Cowboys career

After 15 seasons with the Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten is retiring. Take a look back at his franchise and NFL records, and other career milestones.
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After 15 seasons with the Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten is retiring. Take a look back at his franchise and NFL records, and other career milestones.

There are too many stories to count, and many of them will be listed and re-visited in the coming weeks, so let a few of Jason Witten's former teammates share them.

"With Jason, there really isn't one play that stands out," said former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe. "The only one, honestly, I remember the most is a play when we weren't playing together."

The play is the same one we all remember the most.

Early in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys' game at Philadelphia on Nov. 4, 2007, Witten caught a deep pass and was hit low and high by a pair of Eagles defenders. His helmet came off, but he didn't go down until the 6-yard line. He ran 30 yards without his helmet, and after he popped up he had blood streaming from his left nostril.

"He just kept going," Bledsoe said. "That's Jason Witten. That's Jason Witten the player, and the person, and that play is his whole career."

Witten has not formally announced his retirement, but sources have indicated his decision is final. The Cowboys are not expecting him back, and he will join ESPN's Monday Night Football booth for the 2018 NFL season.

On Saturday, the team drafted his potential replacement in the fourth round — Stanford's Dalton Schultz.

"Maybe he just figured it was time," his former teammate, Patrick Crayton, said. "We all have to. I am sure his body is beat up. He was a true professional who came to work every day and always, always showed up on Sundays. A total team leader all the way through."

Of the many stories and tales told of the 15-year pro, here is one from former Cowboys linebacker/defensive end Greg Ellis you have never heard. And as much as the helmet-less catch-and-run defines Witten, this anecdote sums him up, too.

Let Ellis tell you.

"He quickly gained my respect as a player because he never backed down in practice. He stepped up to every defensive end no matter how big or how fast. And he hung in there. He was so persistent and he sacrificed himself and his body for the love of the game as much as anyone I ever played with.

"I know that play where his helmet came off sums of his career, but there were some others. There was the time he had a broken rib and he kept playing, but the one I really remember was he broke his jaw.

"I don't know what year it was [2003], but he broke his jaw and they did surgery on him and he couldn't eat. Everything had to be through a straw."

Witten suffered a fractured jaw and had three plates inserted in his jaw on Oct. 6 of '03.

"He was losing weight, and they didn't want him to play because of that — he kept losing weight," Ellis said. "So when we went to weight check in, he would sneak weights into his pockets so when he stepped on the scale it wouldn't look like his weight was down, so he would make weight.

"They finally said he could practice and before that [head coach] Bill Parcells came to the defensive guys and said, 'I want you all to beat the hell outta him today.'

"And Bill told him, 'Those guys are not going to go easy on you.' They really didn't want him practicing. So practice started and we were going at Jason, and hitting him hard. Nobody told Jason what was going on. I consider Jason a friend and after one time I hit him pretty good and he said, 'What is going on?' I just whispered to him, 'Bill told all of us to go full speed on you.' He just kinda smiled; he never said anything but he understood."

Witten was inactive for the following game, and that is the only game he missed in his entire 15-year career. He returned the next week.

The following season, he was named to his first Pro Bowl to become the first Cowboys tight end to receive that honor since Jay Novacek in 1995.

There are so many other records and Bunyan-esque tales about Jason Witten.

"However you define a tight end, by whatever metric, he was one of the very best to ever play his position," Bledsoe said. "And, as a person, honestly, he is second to none. He is truly one of the great people I ever played with."

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