Flash, Flair Not Important to Witten

DALLAS - It was NBA Finals Week in Dallas, and the league PR people and the Dallas Mavericks PR people convened to hand over their "celebrity guest list'' to a visiting gal from People magazine. "Where does David Stern sit?'' the lady asked me as we sat on press row and scanned her list of in-attendance bigshots.

And then her second question: "Who IS David Stern?''

There were other names dotting her list. Fake-tanned Hollywood producers. Botoxed trollop girl singers. And sports people. Lots of sports people. NBA Commissioner Stern. Dr. J. Scottie Pippen. And right there on the list with movieland's Jerry Bruckheimer and out-of-this-world Terrell Owens was a Cowboys tight end. Apparently a big celebrity, because he was possibly destined to be mentioned in People magazine.

The Cowboys tight end in question? Anthony Fasano.

Don't blame People for the oversight. Don't blame the NBA. But the only reason Fasano – a second-round rookie with talent, to be sure, but hardly a ready for his closeup, Mr. DeMille -- was even at the game was because he was being escorted by a teammate. Who happens to also play tight end. Who has appeared in three Pro Bowls. Who somehow continues to sneak in under the radar, even in circles that don't care about Brangelina's baby or Paris Hilton's diseases.

Jason Witten.

"Is that right?'' Witten responds when I tell him about the oversight. "That's pretty funny.''

Funny? Where is the tantrum? Why isn't Witten calling his agent, his handlers, his "people''? For one reason, because at the moment, he's enjoying a post-Mavs-game cold one at a Dallas nightspot with his buddies. Anthony Fasano, for one. And fellow tight ends Sean Ryan, Brett Pierce and Tony Curtis, too.

"They're all tight ends,'' says Witten, who is apparently buying the beers for these ‘Boys. "I guess I'm playing the big-brother role tonight.''

Even socially, Witten is willing to go understated. On this night, he is surrounded by some of "the beautiful people'' of Dallas; Tommy Bahama shirts on the men, shoes like stepladders on the women. Yet Witten, dressed as if he just finished a round of golf at the local muni, might as well be a fern in the corner of the room. Nobody knows him, nobody cares. They are too busy with their 10-dollar drinks to know the difference between Jason Witten and Tony Curtis. Or even to know the difference between Tony "Some Like It Hot'' Curtis and Tony "Is He Fourth-String Or Fifth-String?'' Curtis.

Which is fine with Witten, the University of Tennessee good ol' boy who has long been a favorite of coach Bill Parcells.

Witten, in his role as a quiet – OK, pretty much mute – leader, has already expressed his support for newcomer Terrell Owens.

He's clearly embraced the installation of a two-tight-end offense and the arrival of Fasano, taking him under his wing socially and in a football sense. He'd previously acquiesced to becoming more of a tackle-caddie, a stay-at-home blocker to help protect QB Vinny Testaverde. Special-teams in past years? Fine. Learn how to properly play the fullback position this year? Great. Set a franchise record for receptions by a tight end? Fine.

Let Fasano's name be floated over to People magazine while Witten fetches more beer for a group of tight ends whom you'll never again hear from after you've finished reading this column?

That's Jason Witten.

"Part of the fun of playing football is the friendships,'' Witten says, nodding toward his "younger brothers.'' "We've got a good group. We've put together a good team.''

Witten's team figures to contend for the NFC East title (and maybe much more) in large part becase has moved into the upper echelon of tight ends in the conference, right there with Shockey and Crumpler. But he has achieved this ascension without creating a ripple of negativity.

Others have risen to the top accompanied by scandals and outrageous styles and contract disputes (too be fair, Witten's deal is up in a year and talks are underway, so we'll see how well he keeps his name out of that sort of tug-of-war); Witten, not unlike the last terrific tight end in Dallas, Jay Novacek, has risen to the top without flash, without flair, and without a publicist.

The last time you really heard a peep out of Jason Witten? Hmmm. … last year, the loss at Oakland, when Drew Bledsoe threw a failed game-ending end-zone pass to Keyshawn Johnson, maybe? And Witten was wide-open? And Jason kind up hopped up and down for a moment?

Yeah. That was a peep. It's about all you'll get out of Jason Witten. … unless you're a backup tight end in need of another 10-dollar beer.

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