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Why Jason Witten meant so much to the Dallas Cowboys

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The secret is in the dirt.

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NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC vs AFC Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Witten has retired from professional football.

As a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, he’s just one guy, right? We got 52 other guys to cheer on and let’s face it - Witt was starting to lose a step. Everything is going to be fine. There’s no reason to be sad, right?

Who are we trying to kid. This is terrible news. Witten is such an instrumental part of the organization that his imprint on the team is huge. He does so much, on and off the football field, that removing him from this football team makes the Dallas Cowboys less than they were. Jason Witten was a great player, but he was so much more than that. He was a great person, and had a locker room presence that is unmatched.

Even after getting up there in years and showing signs of decline, he was still a highly regarded player on this football team. And Cowboys fans know why...

Hall of Fame production

Jason Witten has been to 11 Pro Bowls. He has 1,152 catches in his career, which is the fourth most of any player in NFL history. He has played in 239 NFL games, which is more than any other Cowboys player to ever wear the star. And despite the history of all the great wide receivers who have came and gone in Dallas (especially those who have donned the #88), no single Cowboys player has more receiving yards that Witten. He’s simply the best of the best and as soon as he’s eligible to be inducted into Canton, that gold jacket will be his.

“The best ones, they find a way”

Jason Witten never comes out of the game. He just doesn’t. Okay, maybe there was this one time where he was smashed upside the face by two defenders, broke his jaw, and then had to drink through a straw for a little while. He did miss some time then. What does something like that set you back? A couple months? A few weeks if you’re lucky? No. One game. Jason Witten missed only one game.

He doesn’t even look like himself in that photo. He looks like an offensive linemen who cut himself shaving. Jason Witten missed that one game during his rookie season, but he never missed another one. Early in his career, he was taught by former Cowboys coach Bill Parcell that “the best ones, they find a way.” And for 15 years in the league, Witten has done exactly that - he found a way.

Respect

Just watching everyone lined up to greet him as he walked through the door is an indication of how special this guy is. Staff members, teammates, and all the big execs were there at The Star to congratulate him. Witten is a consummate professional and everyone knows it. There doesn’t need to be a distinction between voluntary and mandatory workout for Witten because he’s doing it either way. Witten gave it everything he had day in and day out for his entire career. Young players saw this and it was contagious. When you have a seasoned vet out there working as if he’s fighting for his job, how much do you think that trickles over to the young guys? Countless times, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett would just instruct new players to go do what 82 does.

It’s that simple. He listened, he prepared, and he scratched and clawed for everything he got. How else was a slow-running tight end so good for so long in this league? He just out worked you and executed with precision. Garrett describes it perfectly:

“He’s simply the best example I know of, of what you want a football player and a person to be on and off the field,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.

Ultimate Team Player

Witten will go down as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, but there might not be a more complete tight end to ever play the game. If you need him to block on the line of scrimmage, he can do that for you. You need some help in pass protection, Witt can do that too. And if you need someone to win as a receiver at the most critical point in the game, well guess what - that’s his specialty. The fact is, Witten will do whatever is needed to help his team. He is the ultimate team player. And that’s not something he discovered in the middle of his playing career. That’s been his make-up the entire time. Even at Tennessee, he was making sacrifices.

By the way, a special thank you to Fulmer for asking Witten to make the switch. Cowboys fans are forever indebted to you.

He’s all heart

Witten’s strong character and heavy influence wasn’t limited to the guys he shared the locker room with. His generosity extends off the field and has affected so many people. In 2013, Witten won the Walter Payton “Player of the Year” award for his work in the community. Through all the work with his SCORE Foundation, he has helped fund teen centers and provide male mentors to serve as role models to younger kids. Witten’s goal is to help give children opportunities where they would otherwise not have them. He tries to help foster the values crucial in adulthood and teach young boys how to be better men.

The Cowboys organization lost a great one on Thursday and he will be cherished forever in our hearts. Thanks for everything, Witt - it’s been an incredible honor to root for you. Best of luck with ESPN.