This far and away is not the season the Dallas Cowboys were expecting when they made sweeping changes in January to install head coach Mike McCarthy, who then went on to convince the team to detour from its usual draft philosophy and grab a falling CeeDee Lamb with the 17th-overall pick in April. Unfortunately for both, the COVID-19 pandemic landed with the force of an atom bomb and subsequently deleted the entire offseason with the exception of a bare bones, truncated training camp.
Still, there was a lot to be excited about when it came to Lamb, so much so that owner Jerry Jones awarded him the famed No. 88 -- a move blessed by team legends Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant.
"Be you and be great," said Bryant after news broke of the jersey choice.
As Lamb readies to take the field against the his predecessor, what's mostly become a lost season hasn't derailed his electric ability. Despite being forced to acclimate to a carousel of quarterbacks (and corresponding poor QB play) following the Week 5 loss of Dak Prescott and being a rookie without minicamp or a preseason to ramp up, he's already etched his name into the Cowboys record books in 2020. Additionally, he's delivered the high point of an otherwise abysmal and wildly handicapped Cowboys season, when he contorted his body to grab a bad throw from Dalton for a touchdown in the Week 11 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
You truly had to see it to believe it.
But how does anyone practice making a catch like that? The secret involves something you wouldn't expect.
"Honestly, it all started in a pool and then the trampoline," he told media on Wednesday ahead of the Week 13 matchup with the Ravens. "You know, in the pool, you can always just jump as high as you possibly can and then go underwater and whoever comes up with it, it's like jackpot. Whoever comes up with it any kind of way, you win. I [have definitely just been doing] that so much throughout my childhood and just having fun -- it'll translate.
"I can't necessarily say that I purposely meant to do that. I just liked going out there playing ball. But I feel like playing around with my brothers and just having fun with my friends kind of translated to the football field and just me having that ability to turn in midair if you will -- just do weird things in the air -- it all comes back to my childhood."
And as fun as those moments were, they still become hyper-competitive, which is paying off in a big way for the adult version of Lamb.
"The thing is, with my friends and my brothers, we definitely had this competition every time we played [about] who could make the craziest catch," he said. "However you do it, you did it. Multiple guys in one area, you throw the ball up and whatever happens, happens. That's kind of how I envision it every time I see the ball in the air and I definitely try to have the mindset that it's my ball, it's not 50-50.
"Unfortunately if it's not completed by me, definitely want it to be incomplete. But with my brothers it helped me out with that drive and that mindset."
That mindset has Lamb with a shot at nearing 1,000 yards receiving in Year 1, assuming the Cowboys quarterback play can improve in some unforeseen fashion. He's already logged two 100+ yard receiving games in his first 11, and passed "Bullet" Bob Hayes for the most receptions by a rookie in franchise history, blowing past the previously held mark of 46 to stand at 53 on the season with five games remaining. Hayes went on to finish the 1965 season with 1,003 receiving yards and, despite the improbability of it (he grabbed 433 receiving yards through five games with Prescott at the helm but just 217 yards total in the six games without him), there's still a chance -- mathematically speaking -- for Lamb to match or exceed that mark as well.
And he's not caving under the weight of wearing one of the most legendary numbers in Dallas and the NFL as a whole, but instead thriving on the main stage.
"I had the option of picking 10 or 88, and I picked 10," Lamb said in May of the jersey selection, via 105.3FM the Fan. "Then, kind of going more in-depth with the situation, understanding the tradition and how much that number means to this organization and how much of a foundation that number holds -- the great legends before me and what they've done with that number. It was kind of like, why not keep the tradition going? Obviously, they didn't retire that number for a reason, so just trying to keep the legacy of 88 going in Dallas."
The aforementioned blessing from Irvin wasn't veiled, either.
"I'm not handing it out to [just] anyone," Irvin said following news of Lamb wearing No. 88, via ESPN's 'First Take.' "In order to get this number, you must be what we call a 'true bred. That means born, believed and bred right here with the Dallas Cowboys. Drew Pearson was that. Michael Irvin was that. Dez Bryant was that.
"And now CeeDee Lamb is that. I love this kid. I ain't talking about I like this kid. I love this kid."
This week, the Cowboys will face Lamb's predecessor for the first time when they line up against Bryant and the Ravens for some Tuesday afternoon football,-- given what Bryant did for the Cowboys en route to a franchise-best 73 touchdowns. Like Irvin to Pearson and Bryant to Irvin, Lamb now has legendary shoes to fill, but Bryant made it clear in April following the selection what his thoughts were on the pick.
"Cowboys got a stud!!!!" said Bryant. "Congratulations, Lamb."
It's something Lamb took to heart, especially considering Bryant was one whose career he followed closely as a youngster.
"Definitely seeing how he was just consistent throughout his career," Lamb told 105.3 FM the Fan, describing what parts of Bryan'ts game he's always tried to emulate. "He had a pretty great career doing what he did. You could tell every year he got better and that's definitely what I'm trying to do: every game get better, every week get better, every rep get better. That's kind of how I take this approach.
"I've been having this type of approach going into this season just by me being a rookie, having something to prove. I feel like keeping guys like Amari and [Michael Gallup], and guys like [Cedrick Wilson, Jr.] -- just all the great guys just in the room -- having them guys coming in, going to work every day, they definitely do a great job holding me accountable. ... Dez, ultimately, he was THAT receiver."
That he was, and now, that Lamb is.