Jerry Jones gave Dez Bryant the number 88 when he drafted him. It is the same number worn by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and should-be Hall of Famer (and recent Ring of Honor inductee) Drew Pearson. To old Cowboy fans like me, it is a pretty special number in Cowboys lore.
On April 23, 2010, ESPN.com quoted Jones giving his reason for giving Dez the hallowed 88:
“I think that Dez has a chance to make the kind of impact of people that have worn this jersey before,” Jones said during the press conference to introduce the 24th overall pick. “Personally, I think it has a nice synergy for our fans.”
With off-the-field troubles beginning at a North Dallas mall, where Dez was nabbed for wearing his pants below his butt, and culminating with Dez boxing his own momma’s ears back, and with disappointing production, especially in crunch time, Bryant had everyone wondering if Jones hadn’t made a colossal mistake. One of the old 88s, ’70s standout and current Cowboys commentator Drew Pearson chided Dez for not wearing it well:
“He’s not living up to the expectations that were placed on him by wearing that number,” Pearson told the Midland Reporter-Telegram. “Drew Pearson took it to the Ring of Honor level and Michael Irvin took it way beyond that to the Hall of Fame level. When Michael and I had a chance to talk to Dez when he came in his rookie year we told him, ‘Don’t do what Drew Pearson did in it. Don’t do what Michael did in it. Do more than that.’ I know that’s a lot to live up to, but what else is there? You live up to those expectations and people will cherish you for the rest of your life.”
That was then. Way back, like seven weeks ago.
In the past seven games, during which his team has posted a 5–2 record, Dez has caught passes for 808 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last week, in a tough overtime loss to New Orleans, Dez snagged nine Tony Romo passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
It is no accident and more than mere coincidence that Bryant’s emergence as one of the NFL’s most lethal threats at the wideout position has coincided with a mid-season turn-around for his team. His team was 3–5 when the light came on in Dez’s brain. Now, they are 8–7 and playing for the division title.