Cowboys' Bryant to wear sacred No. 88

Updated: April 23, 2010, 7:33 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Soon after the Dallas Cowboys traded up to draft Dez Bryant, owner/general manager Jerry Jones told the equipment managers to get No. 88 ready.

The Cowboys have assigned Bryant that number, which was worn by Cowboys receiving legends Drew Pearson and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. In fact, Bryant No. 88 jerseys were already for sale on the team's website Friday morning.

"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."

Pearson wore No. 88 from 1973 to 1983. The number was vacant until Irvin wore it from 1988 to 1999. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant and tight ends Jackie Harris and Brett Pierce have worn the number briefly since Irvin retired. Overall, 10 Cowboys players have worn No. 88.

Bryant, the former Oklahoma State star, said he didn't know much about the history of the number for the Cowboys' franchise until he was told about it. He hadn't heard of Pearson, who retired five years before Bryant was born.

Jones, who hopes Irvin will become a role model for Bryant, emphasized to his first-round draft pick that No. 88 represented an outstanding work ethic in his mind.

"I know me having a chance to put on No. 88 really means a lot to Mr. Jerry Jones," Bryant said. "I feel like I'm excited to wear it, and I'm very excited that he thinks I can be a great player and wear that number."

Pearson saw Bryant play on television a few times during his college career and believes Bryant has the talent to add to the legacy of No. 88. He hopes Bryant is humbled and hungry after being suspended for the final 10 games of his college career for lying to NCAA investigators about a meeting with Deion Sanders that otherwise didn't violate any rules.

"I guess in Jerry's eyes, it says a lot about him -- that he can handle the pressure of wearing the double-8s," said Pearson, a member of the 1970s All-Decade team. "Most of the time, you say, what's in a number? In this case, there's a lot of history and production.

"For Jerry to anoint him with that number, it indicates that Jerry sees a lot of potential."

Antonio Bryant brought some attention to the 88, but for the wrong reason. He was best known for throwing his No. 88 jersey into the face of then-coach Bill Parcells during an offseason workout.

Dez Bryant hopes to live up to the Cowboys' lofty expectations.

"Me falling to the Cowboys, that's the best thing that could ever happen to me," Bryant said Thursday night. "I'm so happy. I'm excited. I'm ready to go to work."

Bob Lilly's No. 74 is the only number that has been worn solely by one player in Cowboys history.

The selection of the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Bryant means the Cowboys will have a top-three receiving corps of Miles Austin, coming off a 2009 Pro Bowl year; Roy Williams, who has struggled in his two years with the Cowboys; and veteran Patrick Crayton.

The Cowboys also have young receivers Sam Hurd and Kevin Ogletree.

"If all goes well -- not trying to talk noise -- but if all goes well, we'll have the best wide receiving corps in the league," Williams said. "Dez is a big dude, he can play. He will help us win some ballgames."

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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