Jason Witten was fully aware of MNF criticism, though it didn't play a factor in return to NFL

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Ryan Young
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KNOXVILLE, TN - MARCH 2: Former Tennessee Volunteers football player Jason Witten is honored during a college basketball game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Kentucky Wildcats on March 2, 2019, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jason Witten said he knew of all the criticism that came his way during his time with "Monday Night Football." (Bryan Lynn/Getty Images)

Jason Witten’s one-year stint in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” booth didn’t go as well as everyone had hoped.

Many thought that Witten, who retired after 15 years with the Dallas Cowboys to take the gig, was going to have immediate success on the other side, similar to Tony Romo’s jump to the broadcast booth. Yet he was repeatedly criticized in the analyst role, often for comments that didn’t quite fit.

Witten was fully aware of the hate coming his way, and said that it “sucked going through it” at times.

“I took a beating. I’m aware of it,” Witten said on “Dual Threat with Ryen Russillo” on Wednesday. “To say like, ‘Hey, you didn’t pay attention to it.’ Bulls---. Everybody pays attention. Everybody’s aware, and if you’re not, you’re lying to me.”

Despite ESPN’s commitment to keep him in the broadcast booth, the 11-time Pro Bowler surprisingly un-retired in February and signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys, where he’ll return for a 16th season with the franchise this fall.

While he knew of the criticism coming his way on social media and elsewhere, Witten insisted that didn’t have any impact on his decision to return to the field. There was even a stretch during the season, he said, where he felt the “Monday Night Football”crew was working very well together.

“Once the narrative kind of got formed, I knew that it was going to be the long game approach,” Witten said. “I thought as the season unfolded, when (Booger McFarland) moved up to the booth, I thought we had some two or three really good games, and we were starting to kind of hit our stride.

“I didn’t make this decision off of the noise and the criticism. That wasn’t why I made this decision. It was really just, I want to play. The scoreboard matters, and I want to be a part of that.”

The worst part of the hate that came his way during the season, though, didn’t come from social media. It was when people would text him after games — specifically after he had said something weird on the broadcast.

Perhaps the worst, he said, was after he mistakingly said that Aaron Rodgers pulled “another rabbit out of his head” during the Green Bay Packers game against the San Francisco 49ers.

“I would check my texts. It was like they found out I was sick or something or somebody died in my family,” Witten recalled. “‘Hey, praying for you. Keep your head up. Don’t worry about it.’

“My gosh, it wasn’t that bad. I said pull a ‘rabbit out of his head’ instead of ‘rabbit out of his hat.’ You guys knew what I meant, right? I screwed up, but it wasn’t the end of the world, in my opinion.”

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