IRVING, Texas -- Over the weekend, Jason Witten hosted his football camp for school-age kids in grades 1-8 at Liberty Christian School.
He could have put his name on the event, stood off to the side and glad-handed people over the two days. Instead, he hopped from drill to drill, age group to age group, working the field. He knows no other way.
He has 10 Pro Bowls to his credit. No Dallas Cowboys player has more catches in team history. Only Michael Irvin has more yards. Only Tony Gonzalez has more catches and yards than Witten among tight ends in NFL history.
Yet he wanted to make sure the 500 kids on hand for the camp got a piece of him.
"I love playing football," Witten said. "I love the offseason. I love the studying, going through and watching the tape, the grind of the evaluation process and what you can do better. I enjoy that. Then have the opportunity to see the excitement during events like this, and obviously giving back to the community is huge part of that platform that I want to have as a player and as a person all into one, and hopefully be a champion."
The last part of that sentence is what drives him. He turned 33 earlier in the month. He is signed through 2017. He has accomplished more than he ever thought possible individually. Off the field, he has proven to be one of the NFL's best too, through events like his camp, helping him win the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2012.
But he has yet to come close to winning a Super Bowl. The Cowboys have not advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs in his 12 seasons. Last season came to an end almost as painfully as 2006, when they lost at Seattle in the wild-card round of the playoffs when the snap for the game-winning field goal slipped through Tony Romo's hands. Dez Bryant's fourth-down catch at the Green Bay 1 was overturned by replay. The Cowboys wouldn't get the ball back again, and the Packers advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
How the Cowboys lost to the Seahawks drove Bill Parcells to retirement. How the Cowboys lost to the Packers added to Witten's incentive. When he no longer enjoys the grind of an offseason, he knows it will be over.
"It's not about another 50 catches, so that's what's exciting," Witten said. "I feel like I have to have that approach because that's the only way you can get to where you want to go -- have that approach every day of a little bit of a chip on a shoulder and you're motivated, and I think everybody in the building sees that and feeds off that.”
Athletes use slights -- real or perceived -- to keep them going. Despite all that he has accomplished, Witten still carries with him the pain of being a third-round pick in 2003. He could tell you the four tight ends picked before him and come close to their draft positions: Dallas Clark, No. 24 to the Indianapolis Colts; Bennie Joppru, No. 41 to the Houston Texans; L.J. Smith, No. 61 to the Philadelphia Eagles; and Teyo Johnson, No. 63 to the Oakland Raiders.
Witten went No. 69 to the Cowboys.
"That never leaves you," Witten said, laughing but displaying a knowing look of seriousness. "You always got to hold on to that ... Three second-round draft picks."
That last statement tells another story. In 2013, Gavin Escobar was the third of the three second-round picks the Cowboys used on tight ends in Witten's tenure. In 2006, they took Anthony Fasano. In 2008, they took Martellus Bennett.
Witten has outplayed them all and could outlast Escobar, too.
"I think it’s the consistency of what's being asked," Witten said. "It was a little bit of a different role last year than in years past, something that I had to embrace and learn to be that kind of in-line blocking tight end in some areas and the run-action passes that we did. But I think just playing at a high level, the standard is high for me and what I want to accomplish, so I’ve got to go back and do it again."
The chase for perfection will never end for Witten. He hopes one day the chase for a championship will.