FRISCO, Texas -- On the face of it, there appear to be few similarities between Michael Irvin and Jason Witten.
Irvin was braggadocious during his Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. Witten prefers to let his work do most of his talking. Irvin would make emphatic first-down celebrations. Witten's biggest celebration came last season when he quickly "threw up the X" after catching a touchdown pass from Dez Bryant.
Jason Garrett was Irvin's teammate for eight seasons. He has been around Witten as a coach since 2007.
"I think they're similar the way a lot of great players are similar: the drive to be the best and the willingness to do whatever it takes each and every day to be the best," Garrett said. "I have great memories and images of Michael Irvin at Valley Ranch by himself, late in the day, 105 degrees out, running routes. He's got weighted vests on. He's got weighted girdles on. He's got his shoulder pads, his helmet, his Walter Payton mouthpiece, again and again and again running routes. That's Witten. Each and every day in everything that he does, I've never seen him kind of mail it in. Never once. Never in a meeting, never in a walk-through, never in a practice and certainly not in a game. They love to play and they have a tremendous drive to be the best at what they do."
With 17 receiving yards in Sunday's season opener against the New York Giants, Witten will surpass Irvin (11,904 yards) as the Cowboys' all-time leader. In 2012, he broke Irvin's franchise record for receptions. He enters his 15th season with the seventh-most catches in NFL history with 1,089.
"These are two of the hardest workers and they ultimately became two of the highest receptions and yardage leaders in Cowboys history," Irvin said. "It's amazing. It's America's Team and we did it the American way. We just had to earn it. You had to work. Nobody, not anyone in our draft class would say honestly that we had the gifts, the talent to do it. While they measure your 40, measure your vertical, measure all that other stuff, they cannot measure that thing that ticks right inside your chest. That's why I love the kid. I just love Jason. I love all that he stands for."
When Witten broke the receptions record, Irvin immediately left him a text message offering congratulations. Over the years they have become friends, sharing laughs over dinners with Tony Romo and other players.
Just last week at the Cowboys' kickoff luncheon, Witten sat mesmerized along with everyone else inside AT&T Stadium as Irvin introduced owner and general manager Jerry Jones to receive the team's Tom Landry Legend Award.
"The guy can just demand the room. It's really hard to do that at a luncheon and most people don't want to be there," Witten said. "I mean, the guy has got every player ... my wife was there, she's on the edge of her seat. That's who he is and it sounds like that's the way he played the game, too. I realized, I don't know how early into our relationship of being around each other, but I realized he has that presence around him and the more stories I hear, it sounds like that's the thing you respect about him most. In some ways that's how I've tried to approach it. Maybe not demanding the room like that but demanding how you work, how you play and the standard in which you do it both on and off the field."
Irvin remembers being at Valley Ranch, teaching his son Michael how to be a better route runner. On the other side of the field were Witten and Romo working by themselves. Irvin's son is now a tight end at Miami, Irvin's alma mater.
"What I told Mike is, 'Listen, it's about understanding the timing of plays, not about trying to be the fastest dude,'" Irvin said "It's about understanding the timing, and that's why I tell him to watch Jason Witten, watch how he understands the timing of the plays. That's what makes him great."
Irvin will be watching Sunday because he always watches the Cowboys. He will have his cellphone in his hand during the game ready to send another text message.
"I will have it written out in the box, and the moment it happens I will hit send, you better believe it," Irvin said. "I will hit send and say it another time: I'm honored. I really am honored because of all that he stands for and all that he represents. My son plays tight end, and I tell my son, that's who you want to be like right here. You want to be just like Jason Witten."