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Witten Hears the Doubters … "And Rightfully So"


OXNARD, Calif. – Usually when you get the every-popular nickname of the "GOAT," there's not a lot left for that individual to prove.

Whether the phrase gets tossed around too much or not, simply suggesting that someone is the "Greatest Of All Time" typically leaves no doubt about their ability to perform.

But even Jason Witten knows this situation is unusual. No matter his 15 glorious season that included 11 Pro Bowls in a career that will most certainly end at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, this 16th season, after a year off to do ESPN's Monday Night Football, has brought some some skepticism.

"I have to go prove it and be a part of something," Witten said over the weekend as he returned the practice field. "Life has a crazy way of going sometimes. It's a windy road. I'm very fortunate the organization has given me this opportunity, and I know I have a lot to prove."

And even that is a unique experience. Witten said he's always tried to hold himself to a high standard, but being doubted by others is not a common occurrence.

"There's a lot of questions about what I can do, and rightfully so," Witten said. "Anytime you kind of take the road that I've taken, people don't know what to expect. Not that I'm motivated by that, but I think that's a hell of a challenge for me to kind of be able to go out there. Look, it's a show-me game. I've got to be able to show it."

However, while getting questioned about his football ability might be a new thing, Witten heard his share of criticism last year. His "rookie" season in the broadcast booth at ESPN had some expected growing pains.

"I learned that through last year," Witten said. "That was the first thing I ever wrote when I was with the network, was you can't allow those things to affect you. They happen. It's not personal. It's part of the business."

And so as he returns, knowing that some of his biggest supporters over the years are even somewhat skeptical about his ability, Witten said he uses the same approach from last year.

"This opportunity, I'd be a disappointment, I'd be letting down a lot of people if I paid attention to that," Witten said. "My whole life has been motivated and prove and believe that I can be the best. And if you allow those things in in your mind, that clutter, you're never going to be able to reach what you do. My expectation, my belief in myself is a lot higher than any of that stuff. Those questions are fair. I get that."

While there will be plenty of eyes wondering what Witten can do this year, he's already passed one test. And to him, it was judged by his harshest critic … himself.

"Before I made this decision, I put myself through a pretty hefty stress test where I knew that when you make a decision like this, the last thing I want to do is be a shell of myself. I felt pretty confident early on. You never really know until you get out here. Fairly early in the offseason, I felt like, 'OK, I can get there.' You've got to go do it. That's what I'm focused on doing. I believe in myself. I've always done that."
And when it comes to playing tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, it has certainly always worked.