Everyone knew it would be an emotional night for Dez Bryant, but not in the way it turned out to be. For weeks, the Pro Bowl wideout has been working his way back into the NFL spotlight by first signing with the Baltimore Ravens practice squad and ultimately their active roster, keenly staring at who his opponent would be in Week 13. It was Bryant's beloved Dallas Cowboys, the team that traded up to select him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, for which he build a legendary career that includes 73 receiving touchdowns -- the most in franchise history.
But after being unexpectedly released following the 2017 season after publicly voicing a grievance with the Cowboys' offensive play-calling, and seeing as this would've been the first time he's ever played against them, Bryant was champing at the bit to prove he still has plenty of tread on his tires. After three postponements, the Week 13 contest was finally set to get underway by way of a historic Tuesday night NFL matchup, and an excited Bryant began warmups only to be pulled and tested one more time for COVID-19 -- a test that came up positive and deleted him from the game only minutes ahead of kickoff.
An emotional and frustrated Bryant took to Twitter and promised he'd hang up his cleats for the remainder of 2020.
"Yea I'm going to go ahead and call it a quit for the rest of the season," he said in a tweet. "I can't deal with this."
He'd think better of that decision once a cooler head prevailed, though.
"I'm about to drink some wine and cope," he noted before later walking back his promise to walk away from the NFL following his gut-wrenching positive COVID-19 test. "... Yea I'm coming back. I'm being smart."
Considering what Bryant has gone through to get back to this point in his NFL career, it makes sense he'd return to Ravens practice once he's cleared from the reserve/COVID list. After being released from the Cowboys, he'd sign with the New Orleans Saints only to suffer a torn Achilles in one of his first practices with the team. The injury would force him out of football for the entire 2018 season and Bryant spent the 2019 season feverishly conditioning -- both mentally and physically -- leading into 2020, when he began lobbying the Cowboys to re-sign him in the wake of their divorce from longtime head coach Jason Garrett.
Owner Jerry Jones and a previously hardlined Stephen Jones admitted publicly they wouldn't dismiss the idea, but never added him back to the roster, instead going on to draft CeeDee Lamb with the 17th-overall pick and awarding him Bryant's former No. 88 jersey -- two moves Bryant himself endorsed. He'd go on to join the Ravens -- one of his three "dream" destinations -- and circle the Week 13 matchup on his calendar. So while he didn't view it as a revenge game, it was far from just another opponent.
It was his Cowboys.
"This was more than just another game for me," said Bryant. "It wasn't about revenge. I didn't need a catch. I wanted to make a point."
The elder Jones made it known he was "worried" about what Bryant might do against the Cowboys secondary, but the world never got the chance to see. If not for the three postponements, the former First-Team All-Pro would've gotten his chance, but the constant rescheduling held the game up just long enough to prevent him from playing in it. The Ravens went on to thump the Cowboys with 294 rushing yards and a final score of 33-17, but reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson -- who returned from the reserve/COVID list to take the field against the Cowboys -- can't help but empathize with Bryant.
"We found out when we were on the field warming up," Jackson told media after the game. "We were liking around and we only had four receivers out there. They told us and we were like, 'We're just going to have to win the game for him.' We knew how much it meant to him. He's been talking about it for a minute now -- since he's been here.
"... We got the victory for him. I'm feeling for him though, because I know he wanted to be here."