Jason Witten’s Retirement – The Secret is in the Dirt

Jason Witten Header

The secret is in the dirt.”

– Ben Hogan, responding to questions about the secret to his golf swing. He was well-known for his striking ability and for practicing more than his contemporaries.

I’ve discussed my relationship with the Dallas Cowboys a bit in a previous post; they’ve been my favorite sports team (along with the Dallas Mavericks) since I was a kid, but I am beaten down by two decades of team mediocrity. I’m sure I will always cheer for them simply because I have so much personal history and nostalgic energy tied to them. But, unfortunately team owner Jerry Jones continues on as one of the worst General Managers in football (for a record twenty years running), and his hubris will prevent him from ever relinquishing the role.

The Cowboys haven’t been legitimate contenders for a championship since around 1996, and haven’t appeared in an NFC championship since 1995. So, we’re talking about 22-23 years, which is enough for a generation of sports fans to know us as the NFC’s Cincinnati Bengals. There have been some truly awful players during that time, including mistakes like Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, Drew Henson, Mike Vanderjagt, Pacman Jones, and many others. There have been some bright spots though; a handful of excellent players who could have contributed to a Super Bowl team if only they had some depth around them. Players who have kept fans like me excited and hopeful. I’m talking about guys like Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Terence Newman…and of course, the legendary Jason Witten.

Witten announced his retirement a couple days ago, which came as a surprise to me. I know his amazing career wasn’t going to last forever, and he’s hung in for an impressive 15 years already. But he seemed to still play well, and he wasn’t battling injuries. But, the Bill Parcells (adapted from Marv Levy I think) saying is true: “If you’re thinking about when you might retire, it’s time to retire.” And it sounds like good ol’ Jason Witten had been thinking about it.

Witten was really an old school, tough player. He was the type of guy who was a solid presence in the locker room, who lead by example and always worked hard. I think his career and approach to football can best be summed up in a quote from his retirement speech, which incorporates some of the wisdom I referenced from golfer Ben Hogan:

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. Whenever young kids come up to me and ask me, ‘How do you grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys and have that type of career?’ My answer was always the same: the secret is in the dirt.

– Jason Witten, from his May 3, 2018 retirement speech .

Really a great, inspiring quote. It’s sad to see him move on from football, as Jason Witten is definitely one of my favorite players of all time. I put him right up there with Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Larry Allen, Darren Woodson, and other Cowboys legends who I’ve enjoyed so much. I decided Witten would be a good subject for a sketch, so here’s what I came up with:


I’m pretty satisfied with how the drawing turned out. I think it definitely resembles Jason Witten; even without the numbers, you could probably tell it’s him. I actually sort of wish I hadn’t included the beard though; he looks cool with it, but during most of Witten’s playing days, he didn’t have one. So, it might have been better without in terms of a tribute to his lengthy career. Another criticism I have is the star on the helmet, which is a bit sloppy. Speaking of the helmet, I have to say that football helmets are really hard to draw! There were a couple of times I thought I messed up the numerous lines in the face mask…it somehow turned out right, but it easily could have been like M.C. Escher staircases.

Amdall Witten progression

Thinking back on these legendary Dallas Cowboys players, this Witten drawing has got considering more art related to these guys. When I was a kid, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman seemed more important to me than any President or Pope, so I think they would be pretty good ideas for future sketches. I’m not extremely enthused about navigating another football helmet/face mask, but I think they would be fun drawings overall.

Also, final thought: Best of luck to Jason Witten in his broadcasting career! I think he’s headed to ESPN and Monday Night Football. It’s always nice to see the Cowboys so well-represented in broadcasting, right along with Aikman and Romo.


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