PHOENIX – When the Michael Irvin and DeMarco Murray-led team were drafting players for the Pro Bowl, they made sure to acquire as many as Cowboys as possible.
Tony Romo was their first pick. Tyron Smith went a few spots later.
But when it came time for a tight end, even with Jason Witten available, Irvin and his captain Murray couldn't ignore the talents of Saints' superstar Jimmy Graham, who was drafted to join Team Irvin.
Now, Witten did end up on the squad as well, giving that team six Cowboys and the entire coaching staff.
But ironically enough, the tight end drafted first is actually doing all he can to copy the other guy.
Graham said this week from the Pro Bowl that he idolizes Witten, not just for making 10 Pro Bowls and having a stellar
career, but for the work he does off the field that actually led to Witten being named NFL Man of the Year in 2012.
"First thing I told him is that he's an idol for me," Graham said of Witten. "Him, on and off the field. Not only how he's so consistent and him as a pro in the pass game and run game, but what he does for his community and his city. It's been inspiring for me, and it's something I try to emulate as much as I can."
In his fifth season in the NFL, Graham has now made three Pro Bowls. Being one of the league's young stars, Graham gets pulled in different direction with so many people asking for his time. He's amazed how Witten handles being so good at his craft, but also making the effort for his community.
"Doing events at home, it takes a lot of planning and a lot of work," Graham said. "He does so much work. … It's just a testament to the kind of pro that he is. I've been picking his brain all week trying get every secret possible. He's been doing it a long time and I've been waiting a long time to play with him and to really to sit down and learn from him."
Witten said the compliment from Graham means more than the Saints' tight end will know.
"Really, that's what you play for – to have guys like that, who are the best of the best that come to you and say, 'Hey, we respect you,'" Witten said of Graham. "He's a young, bright star. He told me that (Wednesday) night that on the field he's always watched me and off the field as well. And I'm glad that he views me like that. I'm really honored that he feels that way."
While Graham is trying to be like Witten off the field, he wouldn't mind picking up some tips as a blocker, too.
"The way he blocks … I appreciate that even more," Graham said. "It's something I know that my game needs to elevate to as well. I'm always trying to be the best tight end that I can be. For me, the next level is to be what he is on that line. So I'm going to work the best I can to emulate what he does."
Witten said Graham, who played more college basketball at the University of Miami (Fla.) than football, has proven he is dedicated to improving parts of his game.
"When he came in the league, he had success as a receiver," Witten said. "I think he's got a lot of pride. He's been able to transition from basketball to football like he has because he works really hard at it. But to be committed to it, it takes some work. You have to watch a lot of tape. So for him to view me as a guy that he wants to play like, I'm honored by that because he's a bright star, not just at tight end but any of the skill positions."