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Bryant downplays now-infamous dinner tab, cites rookie duty

IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant didn't mind picking up the $54,896 dinner tab for his Dallas Cowboys teammates. He's OK with being teased about it.

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Apologies from the guys who ran up the bill? Not needed, he insists.

"It was all in fun," Bryant said.

The wide receiver spoke to reporters Thursday for the first time since his rookie dinner became a national topic of discussion, with reactions ranging from laughter to disgust.

Most NFL teams have a tradition of a top draft pick paying for a lavish meal. Rarely, however, does it go to this extreme.

The Cowboys went overboard as payback for Bryant violating another rookie tradition, carrying a veteran's pads at training camp.

Bryant sort of knew it was coming. Still, signing a check that big had to be staggering, even for a guy making $2.8 million this season.

"It is funny. It was always funny," Bryant said. "It's what rookies are supposed to do. Some of the older guys apologized. I felt there was no need for them to apologize because it just happened."

Asked whether he felt his teammates took advantage of him, Bryant said, "No. Not at all."

"It's like trying to fit in, basically," he said. "I felt like those are the things you have to do in order to be a part of the team. The older guys helped me understand that everybody goes through it. It happened. It's no big deal. Everything's fine. Everybody is having fun. That's the great thing about it."

Here's further proof of what a good sport Bryant is about all this: He'll be the guest Monday night on linebacker Bradie James' radio show, which happens to be held at the steakhouse that hosted the now-infamous feast.

Cowboys 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 growing accustomed to being at the center of sensational stories.

Earlier this year, Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland publicly apologized to Bryant for asking him in a pre-draft interview if his mother was a prostitute. Last fall, Bryant was suspended from Oklahoma State for lying to the NCAA about a meeting with former Cowboys star Deion Sanders, now an NFL Network analyst.

Despite an outstanding combination of size, speed, moves and good hands, Bryant's tendency to draw unwanted attention likely caused him to slide in the draft. The Cowboys nabbed him at No. 24, and Jones immediately anointed Bryant with jersey No. 88, previously worn by Roger Staubach's top target, Drew Pearson, and by Troy Aikman's go-to wideout, Michael Irvin.

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.

Bryant 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 Bryant has 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."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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