- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bryant, a first-round pick, followed NFL custom by treating his offensive teammates to a meal on Sept. 27. He paid the vast majority of the $54,896 bill at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, a hefty price for what some perceived to be revenge for Bryant refusing to follow another NFL rite of passage by carrying veteran receiver Roy Williams' shoulder pads during training camp.
Bryant doesn't mind some people using the dinner as a punch line, but it does bother him that others consider the meal a controversial event.
"It is funny. It was always funny," Bryant said in his first public comments since the highly publicized dinner. "I don't think about the dinner. I just don't like how some people are [portraying it]. It was all fun.
"It's what rookies are supposed to do. Some of the older guys apologized. There was no need for them to apologize."
Williams said last week that he took offense to the dinner being associated with revenge. Williams stressed that he has a good relationship with the rookie receiver, who is expected to eventually replace him in the Cowboys' starting lineup.
"I have nothing against Dez; Dez has nothing against me," he said. "Like I said in training camp, I don't want you guys to bang our heads together and try to make us hate each other. That's not going to work.
"He didn't take my pads. Whoop-de-doo. He didn't take my pads. But he's still out there as a punt returner, catching balls and doing things he needs to do, and I'm doing things I need to do to make this team better. So don't associate me with being the bad guy with Dez, and Dez being the bad guy with me, because that's not what it is."
Bryant explained that he didn't carry Williams' shoulder pads because he wasn't aware that it was a tradition for NFL rookies. He has since said that he wishes he would have just carried the pads and avoided the controversy.
That's why he had no problem with paying for his veteran teammates to eat like kings.
"It's like trying to fit in basically," Bryant said. "I feel like those are the things you have to do in order to be a part of the team. The older guys helped me understand earlier in the year that everybody goes through it. It happens. It's no big deal. Everything's fine. Everybody's having fun. That's the great thing about it."
Team owner Jerry Jones chalked up this incident as an expensive lesson for the rookie.
"Frankly, I think he's handling it very well," Jones said on his radio show this week. "I can tell you right now that that would make my eyes water to have a bill like that, and it should. But by the same token, it's in the spirit of the same thing that Bill Parcells used to have the No. 1 draft pick bring him his water out there. It's that same type of thing that goes on with a team and the kind of rapport that you want to build on the field."
Bryant is working his way up Tony Romo's list of favorite receivers. He has 14 catches for 158 yards, with a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown.
"I feel like we have chemistry," Bryant said. "He's been a tremendous leader for us, and he's making sure that everybody is on the right page. ... I feel like I'm doing good. I came along as far as learning everything. There's still a lot, but everything's fine."
Romo sees progress.
"I think Dez being a young guy, every week he's going to continue to get better," Romo said. "He's still going to make young-player mistakes. You just keep accelerating the learning curve a little bit."
Bryant also has dealt with a variety of injuries -- a high ankle sprain that cost him the entire preseason, rib damage during the opener, then hip pain caused when he ran into a cameraman on the sideline during the last game, at Houston a week ago Sunday.
He knew he was hurt when he hit the guy, "but at the same time, I didn't want to show my weakness."
"I had to keep myself together and get back out there on the field," said Bryant, who finished the game before telling the team's athletic trainers he was hurting.
So far, though, the biggest welcome-to-the-NFL hit he's taken came at the steakhouse.
"I'm guessing that one of these linebackers or these safeties are waiting to get this big hit on me to let me know," he said. "I'll be ready for it."
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
4dEric D. Williams
4dEric D. Williams
3dMel Kiper Jr.