When Jason Witten made his debut in the National Football League after the Dallas Cowboys selected him in the third round 17 years ago, franchise-renowned head coach Bill Parcells delivered a simple message.
“He quickly taught me that success in this sport comes from reliability, loyalty and consistency,” Witten said on Wednesday.
“These are character traits that I have been attached to throughout my career. ”
For nearly two decades, including a one-season truce where he acted as an analyst in Monday night games in the NFL, Witten religiously adhered to that advice.
The 38-year-old has missed just one game in 17 NFL seasons and he will erase Hall of Fame member Tony Gonzalez’s record for most games by a tight end in the history of the league.
Sunday, Witten will play the 271e game of his career when the Las Vegas Raiders (7-8) visit the Denver Broncos (5-10).
“In this league, the moment you think you’ve arrived, that your place is made, you’re going to get passed,” said Witten.
“If I stayed alert, it’s because I never thought this sport owed me anything. I had to earn my place. And that is to go out on the field and play. Many people say it is a sport where you have to prove yourself against others. ”
Witten has proven his worth time and time again throughout a career that has led him to 11 Pro Bowl caps, first-team all-star nominations in 2007 and 2010 and some of the most impressive stats of all. the players who have moved to his position.
He had eight seasons with at least 75 catches and four seasons in which he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark.
He ranks second among all tight ends in league history with 1,228 catches and gains of 13,046 yards. His 74 touchdowns put him in the fifth echelon in his position.
The Raiders gave him a one-season contract to add experience to the tight end squad. However, the team leaders are happy with what they received from Witter, even though he registered only 13 catches and gains of 69 yards.
“He was very good for the tight ends, he was very good for me, he was very good for our offense,” said head coach Jon Gruden.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t had a lot of team gatherings, team meals, team meetings because of protocols, quarantines and everything in between. But he had a big impact on our players […] He’s going to break Tony Gonzalez’s record on Sunday, and it’s great to have played even a tiny part in that. ”
Witten says he has not decided whether he wants to try to play another season next year or retire permanently. He left the field for the first time after the 2017 season to replace Gruden as analyst for the Monday night games on ESPN.
The experiment was not a success and Witten returned to the Cowboys in 2019 before joining the Raiders in the offseason.
Gruden believes Witten could, once again, follow in his footsteps and become an instructor if his heart tells him.
“I think he would be a great instructor. With everything we’ve been through this year, I would say never in life, I think he’s going to go back to TV or do something else. But yeah, I believe he would be a great instructor, ”Gruden said.
“I think he could be a Tom Landry, a Bill Cowher. I think he has great football intelligence and great motivator skills. He is also an excellent communicator and loves sports. “