Those who have played football at its highest level often struggle with the cosmic disconnect that exists between what they consider routine work experiences and the interpretations formulated by a rabid following that too often judges NFL sideline behavior with humankind’s social norms.
“Put it this way,” said Vikings Hall of Fame receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter. “The Star Tribune wasn’t my office. My office was the Metrodome. Big difference.”
And he’s not just talking about payday. He’s talking about being able to exhibit the kind of animalistic emotion that would get the rest of us escorted to the nearest curb by Human Resources.
“Football is more than X’s and O’s, it’s passion, it’s physical, your adrenaline is pumping,” Carter said. “Randy [Moss] and I used to talk a lot of trash on the sideline. We’d be talking back and forth to each other, challenging each other during the game, and people would say we were arguing, that there was a problem on the team. We’d be like, ‘Man, these people are stupid.’ ”
Sideline behavior is back in the never-ending NFL news cycle this week because Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant engaged in two separate, lengthy confrontations with team captains and perennial Pro Bowlers Tony Romo and Jason Witten. And since the Cowboys don’t play again until the Vikings visit AT&T Stadium on Sunday, video of Bryant’s actions has been on an endless loop to dissect, discuss and entertain.
Cameras caught Bryant yelling at Romo, who was sitting on the bench next to quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and coach Jason Garrett, following an incomplete pass late in the third quarter. The Cowboys had to settle for a field goal and a 13-7 lead at Detroit. Bryant had only two catches at the time and finished with three for 72 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-30 loss.
Bryant, Romo and Garrett later insisted that Bryant’s outburst wasn’t negative in nature but instead the product of a competitive fire that was trying to encourage teammates. Audio of the interaction posted along with the video on NFL.com supported their argument.
At one point, Bryant is heard saying, “Hey, if [the Lions] press me, it’s over! It’s over!” Then he points in Romo’s face in a scene that easily could be interpreted differently without the audio.
“Dez never does anything that you would deem selfish,” Romo said Wednesday in a conference call with Twin Cities media. “He’s a very selfless teammate. He’s never done anything from my standpoint that could be construed as coming across in a negative fashion. It may look that way on television and stuff, but it’s just not who he is. He’s a great kid.”
Garrett agreed, calling Bryant a “great human being” and a young player who is still learning to focus his passion on the task at hand.
“He’s as liked and loved a guy as there is on our football team,” Garrett said.
The cameras also caught Bryant and Witten getting into a shouting match after the Lions scored to take a one-point lead with 12 seconds left. Eventually, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who was inactive for the game, grabbed Bryant and got in his face.
“I think what most people don’t get is everything isn’t supposed to be peaches and cream during games,” Bryant told reporters this week. “There’s always something that doesn’t go right, the way you think it should. It’s the nature of football, period.”
Carter agreed, saying the whole thing “is just not that big a deal” and that Bryant will learn from this because he won’t enjoy spending the whole week being criticized out of context.
“He’ll learn just like the rest of us have learned because the media, they just don’t understand and they don’t want to understand,” Carter said. “It’s going to be on ‘SportsCenter.’ They’re going to make you look bad. So you have to manage it. If not, they’re going to make you look awful the next time.”
Dealing with CC
Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, who played alongside Carter with the Vikings from 1994 to 1996, said he thought nothing of Bryant’s first outburst. But when he did it a second time, Moon said, “that’s when it went over the top for me.”