In places where the audience cannot see him, Jason Witten is confident enough -- even cocky enough -- to be among the Dallas Cowboys' top trash-talkers. But Witten's public persona has always been one of sacrificial humility.
So I was happy for him when in my 1-on-1 conversation with him in the bowels of FedEx Field, he was elated enough by his Dallas Cowboys' 19-16 victory on enemy turf and his personal success with his 1,000th catch to let loose ... if only just a little bit.
"A milestone like this,'' Witten conceded, "is pretty special. I pride myself on being a consistent tight end. To get 1,000, you gotta be pretty old but also pretty consistent. ... it's part of what's been an amazing career.''
"Special''? "Amazing''? These aren't your run-of-the-mill Witten adjectives. He is usually so focused on GarrettSpeak that he gives sincerely corny answers to questions, just as he's done for a decade-and-a-half as an heir to Bob Lilly's "Mr. Cowboy'' saddle. And sure, after I mentioned that he, like the down-the-street veteran of the Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki, will surely someday appreciate the milestone more when he's old and gray, Witten nodded his head in agreement, as if to reiterate something he'd said early in the postgame locker room about this particular gameball.
"I'll make sure to keep that one,'' said Witt, "and not let my kids play with that one in the garage."
The kids, sons C.J. and Cooper, were in attendance in D.C. for the monumental event as Dad joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends to catch 1,000 balls. (Only a dozen NFL players total have done so.) Wife Michelle and other family members were here, too. But no one was more proud of Witten than the people who are alongside him every day at Valley Ranch, people like receiver Dez Bryant and owner Jerry Jones.
"He's a Hall-of-Famer,'' Dez said. "First ballot. We all know that. He deserves it. He's a beast. Hats off to him."
Jerry: "Jason Witten, of all the people I’ve met since I’ve been in the NFL, players, commissioners, owners, coaches, he’s in the top five of all the people I’ve met in the NFL. He’s an outstanding individual."
Witten takes special pride in doing this against the NFC East rival Redskins, in their building, in a game that keeps the Cowboys afloat in this semi-hapless division. "It's a tough division,'' Jason insisted, and in the sense that neither Dallas nor Washington nor New York nor Philly seem able to win it, he's right.
But this is a tough tight end, as evidenced by a blow to the back he took on a catch early in the game. "Legal hit,'' he said of the contact that sent him to the bench if only for a moment ... a moment before which Witten plowed on to finish with five catches for 45 yards to give him 1,003.
The "amazing'' play? Not so amazing, but rather "unassuming,'' as Witten called it, a "Y Stick'' (because Witten lines up as the 'Y' receiver and runs his route to the "sticks,'' that is, the first-down marker) good for a 7-yard gain on second-and-6 in the second quarter on a throw from Matt Cassell.
Said coach Jason Garrett of the "unassuming'' play and the "amazing'' career: "When you are struggling on offense to get things started you need to have a guy you can go to. If you look back at his career, he’s been the go-to guy for this football team week in and week out. I think he got us going and got us into a rhythm. ... Typical Witten night: not overly flashy and had a big impact on the football game."
All followed by an atypical Jason Witten moment in which he allowed himself to admit he's "special'' ... if just for a second.