Jason Witten and Daniel Kilgore have a combined 27 years’ NFL experience.
The local football standouts are scheduled to meet perhaps for the last time in their professional careers on Sunday night when Witten and the Las Vegas Raiders (6-3) host Kilgore and the Kansas City Chiefs (8-1).
The teams faced off on Oct. 10, and the Raiders handed the Chiefs their only defeat thus far, 40-32.
The 38-year-old Witten, a former Elizabethton and Tennessee Vols star tight end, had two catches in that game.
The 32-year-old Kilgore, a former Dobyns-Bennett and Appalachian State lineman, took the field for the first time with the Chiefs, playing four snaps on special teams. He has since started at center in three of the past four games — wins over the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and New York Jets.
Witten started the first five games of the season, but the veteran’s role has been more that of a mentor to the talented Darren Waller. Witten has been targeted just 10 times, but each time made the catch.
Sunday’s game will mark the seventh time Witten and Kilgore have been on opposing NFL sidelines. The first came during Kilgore’s rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, his second professional game, and he didn’t play a down. Witten, already a star at that point, caught seven passes for 102 yards in the Dallas Cowboys’ 27-24 overtime victory.
The next season, Kilgore played in all 16 games for the 49ers, who won the NFC championship before losing 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.
The local players’ teams met again in the opening week of the 2014 season, a 28-17 49ers win. Witten played on 69 offensive and three special teams snaps, and Kilgore played on 58 offensive and five special teams snaps.
With Kilgore manning center, the 49ers had 19 first downs and 319 yards. The Cowboys moved the ball even better but lost, hurt by quarterback Tony Romo’s three interceptions. Witten made two catches for 14 yards.
Witten’s Cowboys got the upper hand — a 24-17 win over the 49ers — in 2016. He was particularly effective on third down and finished with seven catches for 47 yards. Kilgore, the starting center, led an offense that went 8-for-14 on third-down conversions and allowed just one sack of quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The 49ers got off to a horrendous start in 2017 and were 0-7 after losing 40-10 to the Cowboys. They dropped their first nine games before getting on a roll and finishing the season 6-10. Kilgore played a team-best 68 snaps in that season’s meeting, but Witten starred with a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch. He finished with four catches for 54 yards.
Witten retired as a player and became an analyst for “Monday Night Football” during the 2018 season. Kilgore, meanwhile, was traded to the Miami Dolphins but played just four games because of injury.
Both were back on the field for the 2019 season when Witten’s Cowboys won 31-6 over the Dolphins. Miami managed just 72 rushing yards and the Cowboys’ offense flourished with 476 yards and 28 first downs. Witten had three catches for 54 yards, including a 33-yard reception.
Both players have been exceptional professionals.
Witten is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The 11-time Pro Bowl player ranks fourth in NFL history with 1,225 receptions for 13,033 yards.
His toughness is legendary, as evidenced by his tight end-record 235 consecutive starts. He holds Cowboys franchise records for career receptions, career receiving yards, most games played and consecutive games started.
Kilgore, in his 10th season, is fitting in well with the defending Super Bowl champions. In the trenches as a guard and center, he has played 95 games and started 59 over his career. He has 4,390 career snaps.
Sunday’s game is a huge AFC West matchup and both teams come in hot. The Chiefs have won four straight and the Raiders have won their last three.
The game also may be local fans’ last chance to see these two outstanding pros take the field for the same game.