Mac Engel

Jason Witten's greatest feat was that he never let us down

Watch: Jason Witten gives emotional retirement speech

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten announces his retirement from the NFL after 15 years in the league.
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Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten announces his retirement from the NFL after 15 years in the league.

Jerry Jones told Jason Witten to "go be John Wayne" and all future people should just simply aspire to finish up not as The Duke but rather as The Witt.

Thanks to the media, and specifically social media, an increasing number of our sports heroes, entertainment icons and world leaders have been revealed to be human. Often times seriously flawed humans. Humans unworthy of the type of adulation they receive.

Then there is Jason Witten.

The veteran Cowboys tight end is human, so he is flawed, but he is the person we want from our sports figures.

For which we all should say thanks to Witten for never once disappointing us.

On Thursday afternoon at The Star in Frisco, Witten formally ended his 15-year NFL career. The audience for the press conference included all Cowboys staffers, teammates, media and plenty of tears. All of us crammed in to watch Witten have his deserved triumphant, and sad, moment.

We all wanted to watch this, and yet no one wanted to see it.

Witten retires as the most popular Cowboy of his era, more than his good friend, Tony Romo. While Witten never won a ring, he belongs in the same sentence as Bob Lilly, Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, Michael Irvin, Roger Staubach, Randy White, Troy Aikman and Don Meredith as the faces of the Dallas Cowboys.

Jason Witten should become the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

He has all of the necessary numbers and individual achievements. If off-the-field or locker room behavior is going to be factored in the equation to evaluate players, much as it was against eventual Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Terrell Owens, those qualities must be positively applied for Witten.

While delivering his retirement speech at the Star in Frisco, Jason Witten told a story about his broken jaw and the lesson of toughness former head coach Bill Parcells taught him.

Other than his team never having won a Super Bowl, in 15 seasons he missed but one game, and never once was he anything other than exemplary. Exemplary as a player. Exemplary as a teammate. Exemplary as a person.

In this day and age of our favorite athletes and entertainers routinely being revealed for their immature, stupid and sometimes mean antics, Witten is a not merely a throwback to an era when guys were not only perceived be worthy role models, he actually is a worthy role model.

With 24/7 TV, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram combined with umpteen-million temptations, Witten never slipped. Ponder for a moment how hard that is.

To not only be the face of the most visible football team in America, but to never flub it once. All of the previous faces' of the Cowboys never had to deal with today's sort of culture.

And yet any fan who wore his "82" Cowboys' jersey never had to worry that they were going to be embarrassed by some behavior that would reduce the stature of their favorite player.

Cowboys Witten Football.JPG
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, center, and his family are greeted as they enter the Cowboys' headquarters before Witten announced his retirement Thursday. Richard Rodriguez AP

Any parent who bought their kid a Jason Witten item never had to worry about explaining some Witten child-like blowup or flub.

Win or lose, the man graciously answered 10 billion questions from the media over the years, and never once shoved his foot in his mouth despite delivering thoughtful responses beyond, "We're just focused on tomorrow."

It bears repeating — do you know how hard this is?

Witten merely lived and operated by the Golden Rule, and beyond. Witten followed the ethos not of "Do as I say not as I do," but rather "Do as I say, and do as I do."

The first one is easy. The second one requires great attention to detail, self awareness, decency and work.

The lone sad element to Witten's retirement announcement is that he had to give in and acknowledge that a Lombardi Trophy will not be a part of his life.

He had to acknowledge that to Jerry Jones, and accept that reality for his life.

The reality is there are more football players who will win a Super Bowl ring than will do as well as Jason Witten.

The only item missing from his resume is the ring, and while he had not planned on retiring this soon, his priority could no longer be chasing a trophy.

He is 36 with a wife and four children. The chance to walk away "intact" and still be around the game in a TV booth is impossible to reject.

Witten is at that point where he understands he won't get everything in this life; at some point trades must be made. There are things more important than a ring or a trophy.

Ring or no, Witten did it all, and while he dropped a few passes, fumbled a few balls, missed a few blocks, the man never slipped.

He never let us down.

We can only say thanks.

So to all future generations, don't go be John Wayne, go be Jason Witten.

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