ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — With Dak Prescott on one end of a row and Dez Bryant near the other, the stars and starters for the Dallas Cowboys answered phones to take donations for Hurricane Harvey relief while lesser-known teammates practiced a few yards away.
The quarterback and his top receiver were among two dozen Dallas players on the sideline at empty 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium on Thursday night.
The closed practice on the field was the replacement for a preseason game that was first relocated from flood-ravaged Houston and ultimately canceled when the Texans got the OK to go home.
The telethon-practice combo was televised live by a local station. Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin was among the TV hosts, with the phone bank to his left behind him and the practice going on to his right.
Bryant took the call from owner and general manager Jerry Jones , who donated $1 million. Team officials said an early estimate on the total for the Salvation Army was more than $2 million.
“I think this is super cool,” Bryant said. “We’re able to help one another. I hate that this situation had to happen, but the good thing about it is it brings unity. This is the perfect opportunity to show unity.”
Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and company wouldn’t have been on the field anyway had the Texans and Cowboys played their preseason finale. While the second- and third-teamers worked out in full pads, most of the starters donned the sponsor-laded jerseys they often wear at community events.
NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith, a three-time Super Bowl winner along with Irvin and quarterback Troy Aikman in the 1990s, was among the former players who stepped in during the hour-and-a-half event.
The Cowboys were already planning a telethon when the game was canceled Wednesday, the same day the Texans returned to Houston after spending three days in the Dallas area and practicing twice following a preseason game in New Orleans.
“I think they did the best thing,” receiver Cole Beasley said. “Not just for us helping but for the guys, for the other team to get back home and get back to their families. The game is meaningless compared to what’s going on down there.”
Under Jones, the Cowboys have had a longstanding partnership with the Salvation Army that is spotlighted during their Thanksgiving game each year.
The relationship got a boost last season when running back Ezekiel Elliott scored a touchdown and then jumped into one of the oversized red kettles that are on the sidelines starting with the Thanksgiving game. Now the Cowboys have raised money from that same field.
“A lot of people were calling in and it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, Dallas Cowboys, cool, I get to talk to you,” Beasley said. “They were about their business and people really wanted to donate money.”
On the field, second- and third-teamers got their final chance to make an impression before the roster cut to 53 players Saturday. Rookie quarterback Cooper Rush was among them, although his preseason has been strong enough that he is likely to meet his goal of making the final cut.
Elliott didn’t attend because he was at a hearing for his appeal of a six-game suspension over a domestic violence incident. The hearing covered three days, ending around midday Thursday.
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