Something in Common
À la Michael Irvin, Jason Witten takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'
One is soft-spoken and allows his actions to speak for him. The other was more than happy to tell you how good he was. One wears your typical, conservative suit on game day. The other wore suits that could be described as, well, colorful.
One probably hasn’t darkened the door of a local police station, except to perhaps do a charity appearance. The other, well, let’s just say he was on a first-name basis with the Dallas County district attorney for a while.
If you’re looking for bluster or pride out of Witten, you’re going to be waiting awhile.
On Sunday, Witten will likely take away one of Irvin’s prized possessions — his all-time team reception record. Irvin finished his career with 750 catches. Witten enters the November 5 game against Atlanta with 747 catches. Given how Witten has caught passes this season — he already has 52 receptions in seven games — he may pass Irvin by the end of the first half.
More in common than meets the eye
If you’re looking for bluster or pride out of Witten, you’re going to be waiting awhile. That was always Irvin’s stock and trade. Witten has always had a Roger Staubach vibe to him — quiet, confident, professional and productive.
Dig a little deeper, and Witten and Irvin actually have more in common than just the uniform and the production.
Although you can certainly question some of the things that Irvin did off the field, his work ethic was never debatable. Teammates, management and NFL observers alike praised the time Irvin put in on the practice field. He proclaimed himself “The Playmaker” and worked hard to back it up.
Former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson once told ESPN Dallas that Irvin made an impression on him during his rookie season. During offseason workouts in the summer, Woodson watched Irvin run routes on the practice field until he puked. Irvin then washed his mouth out and kept running routes. Woodson called Irvin’s work ethic “insane.”
Witten has the same dedication. In fact, we’ve seen Witten vomit during at least one game. The work ethic — not the vomiting — is part of the reason the pair have put up big numbers.
Irvin lived and played with plenty of flash. It’s not even clear if Witten’s been to a dance club.
Another reason is avoiding injury. Witten has missed one game his entire career, thanks to a broken jaw. Irvin missed just a handful of games before an injury to his spine against Philadelphia in 1999 prematurely ended his career.
The one gap in Witten’s résumé
Irvin lived and played with plenty of flash. It’s not even clear if Witten’s been to a dance club. Maybe a honky-tonk. He is from Tennessee, after all.
But pro football teams are like successful communities — it takes all kinds, according to head coach Jason Garrett.
“A lot of different personalities get this thing done,” Garrett told reporters on Wednesday. “The common denominator is passion and intensity for the game, and both of them have it.”
If there’s a gap in Witten’s career, it is most assuredly the postseason. The Cowboys have been largely absent from the playoffs since Irvin retired. The Playmaker retired with three Super Bowl rings; Staubach finished with two.
Witten has none. He hasn’t even sniffed the NFC championship game. There’s a real possibility he may exit the NFL without one.
That would be a shame, but it would also be an illustration of how temporary sports can be. Witten may own this record after this weekend, but when we talk about him 10 years from now, will we remember the production or the championships?
When we remember Irvin, we remember the rings. And after Witten passes him, when we think of Irvin, we’ll still remember the rings. Records are only as good as the championships they accompany.