You may have seen it live. You more than likely have seen the highlight. The play happened during a Sunday-night game in 2007 between NFC East rivals in early November. One play stood out above the rest in a lopsided win for Dallas at Philadelphia. Cowboys TE Jason Witten caught a pass over the middle and was sandwiched between two Eagles defenders. Not only did the former Tennessee Volunteer star not go down, but he emerged without a very important piece of equipment, his helmet. Witten took off downfield, looking over both shoulders while trying his best not to be taken down from behind. Fortunately for the Eagles, someone did catch up to him, but only after Witten had gained 53 yards.
"I'm sure that's a play that I will be remembered for, for a long time. From a football standpoint, that's the way the game is supposed to be played. Just because you take a hit, that doesn't give you an excuse to go down. Just keep on running," the 6-6, 263-pound six-time Pro Bowler said. " I hope that play showed the passion and integrity and respect that I have for the game."
It's that kind of modesty and drive that helped Jason Witten earn Pro Football Weekly's 2010 Arthur S. Arkush Humanitarian Award. Witten joins former teammate Roy L. Williams, who won in 2006, as a member of what is now a 12-member club. The Cowboys, meanwhile, join the Bills, Chiefs and Titans as teams that have multiple award recipients.
"I think it speaks volumes to what this organization is all about. There is so much more than wins and losses that go into making this franchise what it is," Witten said. "I really think that they embrace their role in the community. Our community relations director, Emily Robbins, our P.R. director, Rich Dalrymple, do a great job of bringing us along. Taking advantage of what we have, and trying to give back."
The feeling of pride Witten has for the Cowboys is definitely mutual.
"It's been a joy to have the opportunity to work with Jason and his wife, Michelle," Robbins said. "Along the way, I've seen firsthand Jason's unique ability to connect with one child or a group of kids and make each of them walk away feeling special. Most think he's just like the guy next door — someone who hasn't been affected by his on-field success or status with the Dallas Cowboys. And you know what? They are absolutely right.
"But he is much, much more to so many that he has touched with his volunteerism and SCORE Foundation. Long after his days of playing football are complete, Jason will still be the guy volunteering, still making a difference in the community, still saying, 'Yeah, I'll do that one, too!' "
As Robbins pointed out, Witten and his wife launched a foundation that includes the SCOREkeepers program (SCORE stands for Support, Community, Overcome, Rebuild, Educate).
According to Witten's Web site, the SCOREkeepers program is a "unique initiative placing full-time, trained male mentors in battered women's shelters throughout Texas. The mentors seek to demonstrate positive male behavior to the children living in these shelters in an effort to break the cycle of violence that plagues families affected by abuse."
Co-director Ryan Altizer said the foundation implemented a new program that he and Witten are very excited about. It's called "Coaching Boys into Men." Witten and his foundation reached out to the coaches of male athletes at four high schools in the Arlington, Texas, area.
Coaches are taught "how to interact with their student-athletes about the rights and wrongs of dating and interacting with women," Altizer explained. The coaches went through the learning process in the spring and will be implementing the program in the fall as students return to school.
In addition to "Coaching Boys into Men," Witten and his foundation have held annual football camps and charity bowling events as well as a yearly Christmas party.
"A ton of his Cowboy teammates and their wives or girlfriends help put this thing on," Altizer said regarding the Christmas party. "The looks on the faces of these kids as they get to meet these guys and get to play games with them, and get special gifts that they wouldn't get otherwise. It's a true testament to not only Jason, but his teammates as well."
In June, Witten held his eighth annual free football camp in his hometown of Elizabethton, Tenn. QB Tony Romo has helped Witten with the camp in the past.
"I've been amazed by all that Jason has given back to the community," Romo said. "It started when we were rookies. He was always volunteering for this or for that, way before he started his foundation. It proved to me that it's for real with him — he is not doing something because it's what he should do but rather what he wants to do to make a difference in the lives of others.
"Like at his football camp that I went to, there are over 1,000 kids there and he is totally into it — very present and happy to be spending time with those kids."
Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips agrees with his Pro Bowl quarterback.
"As I've gotten to know Jason over the last few years, I've been just as impressed with his off-the-field contributions as his play on the field," said Phillips. "He is the total package. A heck of a football player, an incredible husband and father and a guy that is genuinely dedicated to his community efforts whether through his own foundation or something our team or league has going on. You can't ask for more from a person — he already gives all he's got."
When asked about his thoughts on winning an award for the contributions he makes off the field, he deflected it the same way he deflected those two Eagle defenders back in 2007.
"I believe the integrity you have to play with and the kind of person you have to be and realize that part of our responsibility is to provide for the unfortunate situations that some of these kids have," Witten said.
Witten plans to continue his volunteer work even after his career comes to an end.
"Hopefully you're building a strong enough foundation where it will continue to grow to the point where when you're done playing, it doesn't need that name, or it doesn't need those things to continue to grow," he said. "It's obviously something that is extremely important to my family and me. I'm very hopeful that it continues going long after I'm done playing."
True words from a man who makes things happen, whether it's with a helmet or without one.
2009 — Gary Brackett, Colts
2008 — Keith Bulluck, Titans
2007 — Drew Brees, Saints
2006 — Roy L. Williams, Cowboys
2005 — Brian Moorman, Bills
2004 — Kevin Carter, Titans
2003 — Tony Richardson, Chiefs
2002 — Ruben Brown, Bills
2001 — Derrick Brooks, Buccaneers
2000 — Chris Sanders, Titans
1999 — Will Shields, Chiefs
Here is an alphabetical list of the other 26 players nominated for Pro Football Weekly's 12th annual Arthur S. Arkush Humanitarian Award:
Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders
Josh Brown, Rams
Thomas Davis, Panthers
Vernon Davis, 49ers
Cortland Finnegan, Titans
Brian Finneran, Falcons
London Fletcher, Redskins
Domonique Foxworth, Ravens
Daniel Graham, Broncos
E.J. Henderson, Vikings
Israel Idonije, Bears
Quentin Jammer, Chargers
Matt Leinart, Cardinals
Jake Long, Dolphins
Shaun O'Hara, Giants
Tony Richardson, Jets
Clifton Smith, Buccaneers
Drew Stanton, Lions
Max Starks, Steelers
Zach Strief, Saints
Joe Thomas, Browns
Ernest Wilford, Jaguars
Vince Wilfork, Patriots
George Wilson, Bills
Josh Wilson, Seahawks
Charles Woodson, Packers
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