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  • From The MMQB Podcast: Jason Witten on missing just one game in 15 years, the challenges of playing Thursday Night Football, and lessons learned from his grandfather and Bill Parcells
By Peter King
November 15, 2017

This week two of the game’s great tight ends, Jason Witten and Greg Olsen, joined The MMQB Podcast With Peter King. Witten spoke to King about his remarkable career longevity—now in his 15th season with Dallas, he has missed just one game—and what he’s learned from the game. Five takeouts from Witten:

On the secret to his durability

“If there was a secret, the secret would be in ‘the dirt.’ The secret is in the dirt. It’s going out and doing it time and time again, working on your techniques and your fundamentals. I’ve been blessed to not have a major injury. There’s a difference between being hurt and having pain, and being injured, where it’s out of your control. If you tear your ACL, it doesn't matter how tough you are—you can't play through that. I’ve been fortunate from that standpoint. I think it’s a mentality. I just have a drive inside of me. Every time I pull into that facility, I want to do more, I want to chase greatness.”

On mental toughness

“The physical and mental go hand in hand. A lot of people told me early on, the game is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. And I believe that. Mentally, your preparation, being able to fight through things, your vision, it is critical to anyone's success. I was taught very early on from my grandfather, who was my high school football coach, the mental approach that you have to have day in and day out. Not allow people to see you weak and tired and your ability to see where you want to go. To fight through it and say, yeah, I don't feel great right now, but tomorrow it is going to be better. You train yourself to be mentally tough, you work to be mentally tough, you go through adversity so you can be mentally tough. Being drafted here and playing under Bill Parcells, I was taught real quick that there is a certain way in which you have to play.”

On what his grandfather said to Bill Parcells

“I tried to warn my grandfather, I said, Hey, it's not all peaches and cream over here, so be quick and be brief. But Coach was so gracious. I think Bill liked players who grew up around football, who loved football, who spent many dinners talking about football, I think he appreciated the fact that my grandfather was my high school football coach. Very early in the conversation, I heard my grandad, you didn't hear him cuss very much, but at one point he said, ‘Coach, you’ve got my permission. If he gets out of line, you stick that foot up his --- and get him to straighten up real quick.’ I thought to myself, Well, I don’t hear that very often from my grandfather. And Bill laughed and said, ‘Trust me, you don't have to worry about that. I've been doing that already for three or four months.’”

On safety concerns

"We are continuing to learn more and more. It’s a different game than it was 30 years ago. Our league is working really hard, with our rules committee, to make it a safer game. We all make choices to go out there. I love this game, and the opportunity. I am confident that it’s a safe game, and we need to continue to evolve and use the technology we have to further our game and make it more and more safe. It’s a concern for all of us, even as a father, to think my kids could play and a concussion could very easily happen to them. I’ll let them play in the next few years and have an opportunity, because the game has taught me so much. Regardless of whether they have the opportunity to go to college and play professionally, I want them to experience that. I think our helmets are getting better, I think we are teaching kids how to tackle better. I feel confident in what we are doing with our game to make it safe.”

On Thursday football and the Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving game

“It is hard to go produce and play at a level Sunday to Thursday. It’s not much recovery overall and certainly makes it more of a challenge, especially for older guys like myself. At the end of the day, you have to get out there and find a way to make plays and execute. If they roll the ball out, you have to be able to play. It is more challenging, and I don’t think the game is at the highest quality just from a performance and execution standpoint, because it is such a quick turnaround. I know there are a lot of different feelings and emotions on [Thursday Night Football], and I don't know what the stats say as far as injuries. I'm not really affected by it. It doesn’t really matter when, where, how, the opportunity to play the game, sometimes you get a little more rest and other times it is cut short. It is one of the greatest feelings to play on Thanksgiving on that holiday in front of the whole country and put that star on your helmet.”

Hear the full interviews with Witten and Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, and subscribe to Peter King's podcast on iTunes. Thanks for reading and listening.

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