Dez Bryant had spent the first nine weeks of the NFL season doing a few things.
Coming to grips that the Dallas Cowboys, after eight seasons and 75 touchdowns, no longer wanted him. “That is something I had to accept,” he said.
Coming further to grips that the NFL wasn’t exactly beating down his door to claim him, while still staying in the kind of shape that made a return possible. “Doing my normal routines, doing my workouts,” he said.
And, finally, watching a lot of football because throughout the volatile life and soap-opera career of Dez Bryant, across sideline screaming matches and legal disputes, there is one certainty that never wavered.
“I love football,” Bryant said. “I watched every game. I love watching football. I’m a fan first.”
Earlier this week the New Orleans Saints signed Bryant and gave him a chance for a late career curtain call. The invitation from coach Sean Payton came out of the blue. Bryant raced to Louisiana. He vowed to do whatever he was told. He promised to accept any role. He was grateful and gracious.
Dez was back. Good for him. Good for the league, if only because the Saints visit the Cowboys later this month, and, man, did that have the potential for some fun.
And then on the final scheduled play in practice Friday, just Bryant’s second session with the Saints, he tore his Achilles, according to the NFL Network. An MRI is scheduled. No one seems hopeful. If this is it, then this is probably it for the 30-year-old.
Boom, just like that.
Dez has his critics but there was never any doubting his love for the game or his desire to win. If anything, he wanted it all too much and never had any idea of how to properly channel his passion. Playing over the edge made him great. It could also make him combustible.
Yelling at teammates, ranting during games, poor body language, it was almost always, if not always, rooted in trying to demand better of everyone, himself included.
“That’s emotion,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after one Bryant-Tony Romo clash during a 2013 game in Detroit.
“He’s a competitive guy,” Romo noted that day, offering full forgiveness. “… I’m sure you’ve seen him get emotional, which happens every game. He’s never complained to me about getting the ball. He knows that the ball [is] going to where it’s supposed to. He knows that.
“When you guys see emotions from Dez, it’s just trying to ‘rah, rah’ more than it is being a ‘me’ guy. That’s not who Dez is. I think that would be completely out of character for him if there were ever a ‘me’ situation. He does a great job. Sometimes he gets emotional just about, ‘Come on guys, come on, we’re better than this.’ He’s never a self-first guy.”
For years the Cowboys were willing to trade in this. Dez was who Dez was, and with it came the big plays, the clutch plays, the winning plays. There was a stretch when he was nearly unstoppable. Players get old, though. Wide receivers get old quicker than anyone.
Eventually Dallas decided Bryant’s on-field production no longer warranted dealing with the flare-ups. Thirteen-hundred yards and 16 touchdowns is one thing. Eight-hundred yards and six touchdowns is another, apparently. Dallas, mind you, is 3-5.
The rest of the NFL, though, seemed to agree. Bryant sat and tried to reassess everything. He just wanted one more chance.
“A lot of ups and downs,” Bryant said Thursday. “Wanting to play football, thinking about playing football, thinking about preparing.”
He was asked about fitting into the locker room. He said it would not be a problem because it has never been a problem.
“I’m going to always be me,” Bryant said. “I’m not a bad guy. I’ve always been a good guy. You can ask my teammates and my ex-teammates. I love the locker room. It’s like family. Every locker room I’ve ever been in, from middle school, high school, college to the pros has always been like a family. A natural bond.”
His childhood was tragic, born to a teen mother who was busted for dealing drugs when he was just 8. He shuttled through eight different homes after that. He became a football star in East Texas, went to Oklahoma State only to have an NCAA suspension shorten his career. Then the Cowboys. It has never been simple.
For Dez to get another chance, on a Super Bowl favorite no less, it felt like a potential storybook ending. That relentless competitiveness getting a late-career outlet. An opportunity to say goodbye to the Cowboy fans from the field. “Excited,” he said. It was all a fresh start. A full shot at glory.
Whether you liked him or not, he was always entertaining, always electric, always someone who just wanted to play the game.
“My passion is always positive,” Bryant said back in 2013. “Always positive. It’s all positive. It just is what it is.”
“Can you be too passionate?” he was asked.
“There’s no such thing,” Bryant said. “There’s no such thing as being too passionate. You’ve got to have it. You’ve got to have it to win the game. I’m sorry. If anybody disagrees [they’ve] got a serious problem.”
And now could he bring that, in what he promised was an accepted spot as a supporting player, to the 7-1, playoff bound, Saints?
“Who wouldn’t want to play with Drew Brees?” Bryant asked.
This was going to be good.
And then reality struck.