Though it isn't a popular choice around the league, the No. 48 holds a special reverence in Dallas. Jake Ferguson doesn't need any reminding about his choice of number as he begins his career with the Cowboys.
"Moose and (No.) 48," Ferguson said, via the team website. "Some guys are like, 'Oh, he's (wearing) 48.' I'm like, 'You guys don't know who wore 48.'"
Of course, Daryl "Moose" Johnston is the beloved Cowboys fullback that donned No. 48 for 11 seasons. Johnston was a prominent figure during the team's dynasty run in the 1990s, winning three Super Bowls and helping pave the way for the NFL's all-time rushing leader, Emmitt Smith.
Ferguson's grandfather, who happens to be former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, was quick to remind him of the standard that comes with that number.
"He actually texted me and was like, 'You better not be throwing shade on 48,'" Ferguson laughed.
The Cowboys are one of the few franchises that don't officially retire jersey numbers, but there's an unspoken implication that several esteemed numbers within the history-rich franchise aren't readily available to just anyone. In recent years, starting with Dez Bryant, Michael Irvin's No. 88 has been been used as a symbol of sorts for the next great Cowboys wide receiver. CeeDee Lamb currently holds that title, and Ferguson won't be the only rookie in Dallas wearing a revered number this season with first-round pick Tyler Smith donning Larry Allen's old No.73.
Ferguson isn't playing the same position as Johnston but blocking is an important duty for NFL tight ends. The Wisconsin product admitted he didn't love the blocking aspect of his job, but he eventually embraced the dirty work in college.
"Going to Wisconsin, that's first, second, pretty much third down we're blocking. If it's six yards, we think we can get it on the ground and we're going to go for it," Ferguson said. "Finally getting through those five years at Wisconsin, that's something I love doing. That's all it is -- a mindset in the trenches. You've got to love it."
As a receiver, Ferguson had a career-high 46 receptions in his senior season and averaged 11.2 yards per receptions over his four years at Wisconsin. With the Cowboys parting ways with Blake Jarwin this offseason, there's opportunity for Ferguson to see significant playing time as a rookie behind Dalton Schultz.
"Just watching him and especially all the other tight ends that have been through here, they're all smooth," Ferguson said of Schultz. "They're not the fastest guys, they're not the strongest guys, but they're smooth, and smooth is fast and fast is smooth. You watch those guys, they're smart, they know where the holes are in the defense, they know what to do in the trenches, their technique is there. So just being able to try to perfect my craft and get to that level is something that I really pride myself on and really try to get to.
"I've got to work to get to those points to even be considered with the guys that have been through here -- Dalton Schultz, I look up to those guys, Jason Witten -- some of those absolute ballers."
It remains to be seen if Cowboys home crowds will have knee-jerk reactions to Ferguson getting the ball in his hands by yelling "Moose" in unison. Whatever the case may be, the Cowboys believe Ferguson will find a way to have an impact on the team in 2022.
"The play style that we've established here, he definitely fits into that," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. "But the versatility to play on the ball, off the ball, we talked about it a little bit (last week). He has experience already playing in a pro punt formation (on special teams), just little things like that, just because of the way Paul (Chryst) plays up there at Wisconsin. It's definitely that we need more of, and I think Jake's an excellent fit for us."