I'm not sure if many people know this, but I am a Cowboys fan living in New York City. There are Cowboys fans everywhere, so this isn't uncommon, but that doesn't make it any less difficult. Especially when you are a die-hard Cowboys fan.
I wouldn't call myself an average fan by any means. I consider myself to not only be a well-educated fan, but an absolute die-hard… to the point where it's borderline sickening for those around me and unhealthy for myself.
Dez Bryant is one of those players that has a dated public opinion that is simply misunderstood. This is one of the biggest debate topics in my life as a New Yorker. While few debate his skill, I constantly find myself arguing that Dez Bryant isn't what people think he is and how he is a better wide receiver than New York phenomenon, Odell Beckham Jr.
I think it's time I wrote down exactly what it is about Dez Bryant that draws me in. What about him as a player makes him such a talent, and what about him as a human makes me such a fan.
Dez Bryant's Story
To understand Dez Bryant, you have to understand his past.
Dez Bryant was the son of a 15-year-old mother and 40 something-year-old father. Bryant's father was a pimp and his mother went on to have two other children before the age of 18. Bryant's mother sold drugs throughout his childhood and Dez recalled crackheads in his house all the time as a child.
Bryant's mother, Angela, spent a year and a half in prison when Dez was just nine years old for narcotics. Bryant grew up extremely poor, begging for food stamps, relying on the Salvation Army, and staying in small homes with way too many people to fit in them.
Dez told Rolling Stone Magazine back in August about how he first got pads for football.
“Me and my mom” — she was out of prison by then — “went down to the field to sign me up. But when they told us that we needed, you know, to pay for the equipment, we . . . well, we didn't have the . . . ” He breaks off abruptly and ducks his head, holding it in both hands as he sobs. “But I swear on my life, I was blessed that day,” says Bryant after composing himself. “There was this abandoned trailer, and on the stoop outside, I seen these shoulder pads and helmet sitting there. The craziest shit was, they actually fit me. I stole those, man. I stole 'em and I played.” – Dez Bryant in Rolling Stone
So, Dez Bryant had to steal pads in order to pursue his dream of playing football. This whole story is so special and humanizing.
This is what draws me to Dez Bryant. A man coming from that kind of background making it in the NFL is what life is all about. This is the kind of story that can give hope to people in even the worst of situations. When people tell you that nothing is impossible, these are the kind of stories that really fortify that.
Bryant was suspended for lying to the NCAA about meeting with Deion Sanders. Bryant had visited Sanders' house and when asked about it by the NCAA, Bryant lied and said he didn't. Another obstacle for Dez to overcome. This ended Dez' final season with Oklahoma State before being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
Once Dez got to the Cowboys, the stories didn't stop.
From refusing to carry Roy Williams' pads, to being left with a huge bill at a steakhouse, to fights with his mother; Dez Bryant was making news.
These were growing pains for a man of new-money in a lifestyle that he wasn't accustomed to. Bryant had little guidance throughout his upbringing and to get to that point, I think the “issues” were rather trivial.
What makes Dez Bryant so special to me?
Well, knowing what his upbringing was like, how could you not give credit to him? It would have been so easy for Dez to just give up. Think of how many terrible days he went through as a child. There were so many horrible routes that his life could have taken.
It takes a tremendous amount of drive and self-confidence to be able to pretty much raise yourself.
I am a middle-class white man from New York. I was raised by two parents and a loving family. While nothing has been particularly easy for me or my family, there have been tons of learning experiences. I have made mistakes. I am the first of two children, so I had to go through some of the bumps and bruises of life to learn from them.
Given that, I can't even imagine what Dez Bryant had to go through.
The bumps and bruises in my life must have been tremendous scars in his. For him to become the man that he is, given the circumstances, is just amazing.
Dez Bryant wears all of this on his shoulders. Every time a ball is in the air you can just see in his body language that he is going to do everything he can to make sure that the ball is his. It's as if he says, “I went through all of this, so catching this football is nothing.”
This is why I am not ashamed to say that I cried when they ruled that Dez Bryant didn't come down with the catch against Green Bay. That was a career defining moment for him, and not just as a football player, but as a human being.
That was a moment where everything in his past hung in the balance while that ball sailed through the air waiting to come down. The game was on the line and Dez Bryant went up there and did the impossible. He caught that damn football and that wasn't enough for him. Bryant wanted to catch that football and take it into the end zone. Unfortunately, that was not humanly possible, but he caught that football.
Nobody wants to win more than Dez Bryant does. Some mistake this for him being a bad person. Some think he is a bad teammate. When you see him screaming on the sideline or looking angry, he just wants to win. If you listen to the soundbites from some of these moments where people think he is being a bad teammate, he is just screaming positive reinforcement to his teammates. He is telling them how good they are and how they can win these games. He is emotional. He wears it on his sleeve. I admire it.
As a fan, we often don't realize that we want these wins more than the players do. We make our lives about teams or players and don't get paid for it. These players play a game and get paid tremendous amounts of money to do so. The most we want in return is to see players want to win for us.
Nobody I have ever watched wants to win more than Dez Bryant does. Nobody is a bigger Dallas Cowboys fan than Dez Bryant is. This is all that we can ask for as fans.
What makes Dez Bryant special as a football player?
Well, almost everything.
There are a lot of great wide receivers in the NFL. What I look for is the complete package. I value touchdowns more than I do yardage. A receiver that makes a tremendous block is just as valuable as one that makes a bunch of short-yard gains.
What I love about Dez Bryant's game is that there is no receiver in the NFL I would take over him for a jump ball. When the ball is in the air Dez Bryant will find a way to bring it in. There is no other receiver in the NFL that I would take for this.
This has to be the most valuable commodity for a wide receiver. For a quarterback to know that he has a guy outside that if he is in trouble all he has to do is give him a chance, it is such a relief. Tony Romo has done this so often in his career. Instead of forcing passes into tight windows leading to interceptions, Romo has made more decisions to just leave one up there for Dez Bryant.
In these situations, it is actually very low-risk. It will usually end up in either a Bryant catch or a simple incompletion.
Bryant has also proven to be the best red zone wide receiver in the NFL.
When the Cowboys get down near the end zone, it is almost impossible to cover Bryant. Dez is just too physical to handle with such little space. He does a great job of clearing space and then positioning himself where only he can get the football. He does this in so many ways down in the red zone.
What is the most important aspect of the game of football? That would be touchdowns. Dez Bryant does this like no other wide receiver does.
So, while you can argue whether young and unproven wide receivers are better or if guys who get tons of catches and yardage, but fewer scores, are better… I'll always take the guy who gets the ball in the end zone.
I'll always take the guy who goes and gets the football. I'll take the guy who wants to win more than any other player on the field at a given time. I'll take the guy who knows football saved his life and shows you that every time he steps onto a football field.
Whether Dez Bryant is playing through injuries that no other player should play through, or is getting footballs that he has no business getting, I know that I have a guy out there on my team that cares as much about the team as I do.
Some people play the game because they love it. Some do it for the money. Dez Bryant plays football because it was an escape from a difficult life. Dez Bryant shouldn't be where he is today. He defied all the odds. For this reason, Dez Bryant is my favorite athlete.