Witten returns to the 'spleen of the crime' in Oakland
AUG 08, 2013 1:55p ET
Those two Footballese phrases are part of Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett's way to explain the want-to of future Hall-of-Fame tight end Jason Witten, who habitually refuses to take any "veterans' day" practice breaks from the team's training-camp work – and who will in Friday's Cowboys-at- Raiders preseason game return to the "spleen of the crime" that a year ago added to his tough-guy legacy.
"We were playing Tampa a few years ago in the opener," Garrett says. "We liked this 'Wham' play. A 'Wham' play is when you take a tight end or a fullback or somebody and you 'wham' the nose tackle – you let the lineman go up to the next level and you try to surprise the defense by taking this other guy to block this defensive lineman."
The Cowboys figured then-backup tight end Martellus Bennett would be the best man for the job, a "great Whammer," as the coach says.
"So we put this play in," Garrett continues. "It was a one-play package: 'Aggie-21.' We were going to call '32-Wham.' So Witt was going to come off the field, and Martellus was going to come in and 'wham' the nose."
How did eight-time Pro Bowler Witten respond to the installation of a mini-package that would have him come off the field?
"I have a great relationship with Witt – have had a great one for a long time," Garrett said. "But when we put this thing in, he literally didn't talk to me for a week."
Garrett mimicked Witten's response.
"I can't 'wham' the nose? What do you mean? I can't 'wham'?'
Garrett says "it's not good coaching" to allow his 100-catches-a-year tight end to engage in too many wrestling matches with 300-pound nose tackles. So no "wham" for Witten and no pleasantries between a coach and a star player with whom he is close for a week.
"Getting Witten to take a day off of practice is a little bit like the 'Aggie-21' story," Garrett says. "You start the conversation. He nods his head (as if he understands and agrees). He continues to nod his head."
And then when it's time to begin practice and have Witten take that prescribed day off?
"He goes out to practice," Garrett says, "again and again and again."
Witten took the same approach a year ago to recovering from a lacerated spleen sustained in a preseason game at Oakland that was so severe some thought it career-threatening – and was certain to keep him out of the 2012 opener against the Giants.
"You feel like you're letting down your team," Witten said of having to mostly sit motionless in his hotel room for two weeks while his team practiced just 100 yards from outside his door, "(but vowing to return) wasn't a sense of entitlement or being a tough guy. Going into your 10th year, and you just lost for the division to a (Giants) team that goes on to win the Super Bowl, to say it was emotional, yeah, it probably was a little bit. But I kind of felt like I was obligated to do that, and something I'm proud of to this day, even though it was a tough stretch there for me."
Witten's presence in that game, despite just making one catch, was key to an upset win and the beginning of a career-best 110 receptions for him.
"I think it's a great example for the rest of our football team and, really, for the rest of humanity in the whole NFL," said Garrett, quite fond of telling "Witt stories." "That's how you do it."
The legendary numbers (806 catches, 8,948 yards and 44 TDs) are almost incomparable and the images are indelible: Witten's helmetless charge against the Eagles in November 2007; his truly heroic turn against the Giants last year; and now, the knowledge of him hungering to "32-Wham" somebody within "Aggie-21."
He shows up, every day, every year, again and again and again.
And in doing so, Jason Witten leads – again and again and again.
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