The men who made the No. 88 such a significant part of Dallas Cowboys lore expressed disappointment and concern for Dez Bryant after the receiver's arrest on misdemeanor domestic violence charges this week.
Drew Pearson, the All-'70s receiver who was inducted into the Cowboys' Ring of Honor last year, told ESPNDallas.com in a phone interview that he was saddened and disappointed that Bryant's personal issues reached the point of him being arrested.
Pearson's comments came after Michael Irvin, the Hall of Fame receiver who won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the 1990s, said on the NFL Network that his "heart bleeds" when he listens to the 911 tape of Bryant's mother reporting the assault.
Bryant turned himself in to DeSoto, Texas, police on Monday and was booked on the Class A misdemeanor charge that stems from allegations that he assaulted his mother, Angela, during an argument at her home Saturday. According to the incident report, Bryant's mother told police her son hit her in the face with his cap, grabbed her by the T-shirt and hair and struck her wrists repeatedly.
Pearson expressed empathy for Bryant, born to a single teenage mother who served an 18-month prison sentence on a charge of dealing crack cocaine during his childhood. However, Pearson added that he's "tired of people talking about (Bryant is) a kid," and that NFL players are required to have an accelerated maturation process.
"That (upbringing) kind of shapes Dez and who he is, but he's risen above it in so many instances," Pearson said. "There's so many things he rose above despite the dysfunctional family.
"We're all left with excuses some kind of way. If we use those excuses to be held back, then we're missing the point. Those should be used as motivation."
Bryant was considered a top-10 talent in the 2010 draft, but his character issues concerned teams enough that the Cowboys were able to select him with the 24th overall pick.
"To say this is totally out of the realm of possibility, I wouldn't be totally honest," Irvin said. "We know (with) Dez's background and his upbringing that he may have the proclivity to make bad decisions. I had that proclivity. But to go this distance with it is a bit far.
"I don't even care to talk about what the Dallas Cowboys must be doing here. I need to know what some counsel is going to tell Dez or what guy he is talking to about this issue. You cannot -- and you heard (Bryant's mother) say she is tired of this, she can't take it. Obviously it's so sad because it's not the first time and there certainly is something going on there. If we care anything about him, the man -- forget the football -- we need to make sure somebody looks into this."
There were several bumps during Bryant's first two seasons in the NFL.
Bryant was issued a criminal trespass warning last summer when off-duty police officers working as security kicked Bryant and several friends out of a Dallas mall, when Bryant responded by shouting inappropriate language after the group was confronted about their pants sagging too low. In January, Bryant was detained but not arrested after being involved in an alleged altercation at a Miami Beach nightclub. And he's been the subject of lawsuits trying to collect unpaid debts, plus subjected to multiple fines by the Cowboys for infractions such as being late to meetings.
"This is uncharted waters," Irvin said, referring to the allegations facing Bryant. "I like to speak out of my spirit on a lot of things, both the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys I've experienced. But this is out of the world for me. I've never laid my hands on any woman, let alone talk about the No. 1 woman in any man's life, which should be his mother.
"You have to only try to think about where the anger and all of that is for you to get to that point. That's why the pressures or the stress of what you're dealing with, whatever is going on, we can't have that. I know he has to be saying the same things now."
Added Pearson, who was impressed with the way Bryant treated people when they recently played together in Dirk Nowitzki's charity baseball game: "Deep down, he's a good person. He's got to get around better people, I think. All of the incidents that have happened with Dez have come under the same watch, the same people. That's got to be corrected."
Pearson believes that Bryant playing so close to his hometown -- Lufkin, Texas, which is about three hours southeast of Dallas -- significantly increases the stress on the receiver, who financially supports his mother and two siblings. Pearson said former teammate Harvey Martin, a Dallas native, struggled with those issues.
"I saw him try to please everybody," Pearson said. "You just couldn't do it. Nobody can do it. ... The worst thing for an athlete is to play in their hometown. Now you've got double the amount of family that has access to you. And they say success is relative. The more success, the more relatives. You feel obligated to take care of them, to be around them."
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones assigned No. 88 to Bryant because he thought Bryant was capable of living up to the legacy established by Pearson and Irvin.
Bryant has shown flashes of that potential in his first two seasons, catching 108 passes for 1,489 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns. Irvin called Bryant's production last season, when he ranked 30th in the NFL in receiving yards (928) and tied for sixth in touchdown catches (nine), "off the charts" but added that his concern now was solely on Bryant's personal issues.
Pearson shares that concern, but he still believes Bryant can make the previous No. 88s proud.
"I'm available," Pearson said. "That's all I can say. I'm available for him if he wants it."