Dez Bryant’s Toughness Could Vault Cowboys To The Playoffs
Let’s play a game of ‘Word Association’.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind? I’m sure most will respond: “Ain’t that the football player who hit his momma.”
Others might opine: “Didn’t oh boy get banned from a mall or something.”
The rest (Cowboy Nation) would call him the underachieving first-round pick who is more trouble than he’s worth.
If you used those words to describe Bryant, then you are correct on all accounts. In 2012, though, another word describes Bryant: leader.
To understand where Bryant is now, you have to know where he’s been.
The ultra-talented receiver–Dezmond Demond Bryant–got a rocky start in life–as his mother, Angela Bryant, was 15 when she gave birth to him. When Bryant was eight, his mother was arrested for selling crack cocaine. The unconventional upbringing didn’t deter Bryant. …He starred for Lufkin High School in Lufkin, Texas. The 6’2, 225-pound receiver developed into one of the top receivers in the nation–sporting 53 catches, 1,207 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior year–ultimately deciding to play for Mike “I’m A Man” Gundy at Oklahoma State.
In his first year as a Oklahoma State Cowboy, he emerged as a promising young receiver–compiling 43 catches, 622 yards and six touchdowns. He also set the Cowboy’s freshman record–accumulating 155 yards against the Kansas Jayhawks.
Bryant broke out his sophomore year…He had 87 catches, 1, 480 yards and 19 touchdowns–while adding two punt return touchdowns. The freakish receiver was named a consensus All-American following the 2008 season.
After such a stellar year, Bryant was considered one of the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy. This is when the troubles began for him. In the midst of a strong start to the 2009 season, Bryant got suspended for the rest of the year–due to not fully disclosing the details of his contact with Deion Sanders, a former NFL player.
Although Bryant missed the majority of his junior year, he was still projected to get taken in the top-10 of the 2010 NFL Draft. As the draft process went on, character concerns began to be raised about Bryant after he didn’t participate in the NFL combine and performed poorly at his pro day. The receiver,who had reportedly graded out higher than any receiver since Randy Moss, stock began to tumble worse than a Facebook IPO.
Bryant voiced frustrations with the criticism lobbied against him. “I’m not the type of person that will try to confront somebody but now I feel like it’s gone too far. It’s gone too far,” Bryant said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I ain’t never got in trouble with nobody. I never said anything. I don’t say anything wrong to nobody. I’m friendly. This here is too far.
“What is this? Y’all don’t want me to go to the NFL or something? It’s going to happen,” Bryant said. “It is going to happen. God blessed me to have this ability to play this game.
“I haven’t did anything wrong to nobody.”
The comments did nothing to quell the concerns of NFL general managers. NFL Draft prognosticators still thought Bryant could go in the top-10.
Like Moss, a little over ten years before, Bryant started to fall in the draft. Eventually, though, Cowboys’ owner and general manager Jerry Jones decided to trade up and select him with the 24th pick in the first round–feeling that he couldn’t make the same mistake twice. (Jones didn’t draft Randy Moss in 1998 due to the same type character concerns that surrounded Bryant. The rest is history.)
Jones was so confident that he told the equipment manager to “get no. 88 ready.” The number had been worn by Cowboys’ greats–Michael Irvin and Drew Pearson.
Bryant showed promise in his first season in 2010–working as the third receiver behind Roy “The Possession Receiver” Williams and Miles Austin. He finished the year with 45 catches, 561 receiving yards and four touchdowns–supplying two touchdowns on punt returns.
The Cowboy brass felt so confident in his ability that they traded Williams to the Chicago Bears. I’m sure they didn’t expect Bryant to start getting in trouble off the field. During the 2011 off-season, the enigmatic receiver was sued for 861,350 dollars after failing to pay legal fees. To compound those issues, Bryant was ejected from a suburban Dallas mall–receiving a ban from the establishment for three months.
Amid the off-the-field distractions, Bryant had to prepare to be the Cowboys’ number-one receiver. The 2011 season was a sub-par one for the often-troubled athlete, as he failed to reach 1,000 yards. Commentators and fans were beginning to ask: Is he the next Terrell Owens? They weren’t saying this because of his on-the-field exploits…but more so because of his problems off of it.
It was looking like Jerry Jones’ high-risk, high-reward draft pick was about to blow up in his face.
And then the July 17th incident happened. Bryant’s mother, Angela, called 911, saying, “I can’t keep letting him do this,” said Angela Bryant, who made the call from the nearby home of family friend and adviser David Wells. “I can’t keep letting him do me like this. I’m tired. I’m going to put an end to it today. I’m going to put an end to it today. I’m tired.”
Bryant was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence–allegedly hitting his mother with a cap and ripping her shirt. Even though Bryant plays in a league that has had their issues with domestic violence, hitting you’re mother is still deemed unacceptable. The national media and fans excoriated the soon-to-be, third-year pro. A week later Bryant and his mother held a press conference, where she revealed that she would not press charges. The police had enough to pursue litigation against Bryant, and they did. ( Charges were later dropped during the season.)
Jerry Jones ordered around-the-clock security (baby-sitters) for Bryant. Bryant, 24, possibly realizing he needed to change his ways–reached out to former Cowboys’ tight end Jay Novacek. According to sources, he approached Novacek at training camp and said: “How did you do what you did? Can you show me how you did what you did?’’
It was the first sign that maybe he was getting it.
As the 2012 season approached, Bryant had to deal with off-the-field distractions, once again. And predictably, he got off to a slow start. In his first eight games, Bryant had 42 catches for 502 yards…but only two touchdowns.
At that point, the light finally came on for Bryant; he exploded the next five games–with 33 catches, 435 yards and seven touchdowns. His season was almost derailed when he broke his left-index finger in 13th game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Although his season was feared over, Bryant told reporters that “they’d have to break my leg to keep me out.”
After getting clearance to play, Bryant valiantly snagged four balls for 59 yards–scoring a touchdown for the sixth straight game and helping the Cowboys defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 in overtime. With the win, the Cowboys were tied for first place in the NFC East and right in the playoff hunt.
Everything had come full circle for Bryant, who once, according to Drew Pearson, “laughed in his face” when he approached him about mentoring him.
Jason Witten, the Cowboys iron-man tight end, praised Bryant’s toughness. “Finding a way to play shows a lot of toughness because that’s not easy to do,” said tight end Jason Witten, who played in the opener this season with a lacerated spleen. “He earned my respect.”
Head Coach Jason Garrett applauded his team-first attitude. “But right from the start he said, ‘I’m playing,’” Garrett said. “I think that is a real tribute to his toughness, first and foremost as a human being, and his passion for playing and passion for this football team.”
Displaying a new-found humility, Bryant downplayed risking permanent injury to his finger. “I just wanted to be out there and I felt like I needed to,” Bryant said. “Miles came up to me and said, `We’re all really inspired by you playing.’ I can tell from the guys that it meant a lot.”
You were out there. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cowboys.
By Jeremiah Short
Follow this writer @DaRealJShort or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.