Jason Witten retired on Thursday as perhaps the greatest Dallas Cowboy of all time. No one in franchise history caught more passes or played in more games than him, appearing in 247 of 248 possible games. And no one (cliche hat firmly on) approached the game better than Witten did.
Look what the notoriously hard-to-impress Bill Parcells had to say about Witten:
"Jason Witten is what pro football is supposed to be about," Parcells told ESPN. "He came to the Cowboys, got himself established very early, maximized his potential as a player and sustained very, very good play for an exceptionally long period of time and made a significant contribution to the team every year. Now he's transitioning to another career by virtue of his reputation and his affiliation with the Cowboys and the success he has had. That's what pro football is supposed to be."
Growing up in a house marred by domestic violence, Witten was raised largely by his grandparents, including a grandfather that is a legendary Tennessee high school coach, Dave Rider. He played for Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee before leaving after his junior year to embark on a 15-year, Hall of Fame career as a Cowboy, a career that ended yesterday as Witten transitions to an analyst role on Monday Night Football.
"I was never the most talented, never the flashiest. I relied on grit. Other players might have been more talented, but I can assure you, no one was going to outwork me," he said. "Whenever young kids come up to me and ask me how do you grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys have that type of career, my answer is always the same, 'The secret is in the dirt.' I learned early on in my life through many challenges that I could change my circumstances with hard work, but I would have to be willing to go out and earn it. The sheer concentration that is required to pursue a dream, it's not for everyone, but it was for me. I yearned for the daily grind, and I couldn't get enough of it."
Witten will be remembered as the living example of a player who wrung every last ounce of his ability into the bucket, then twisted the rag once more to make sure he got the last few drops left behind.