Since 2008, the Dallas Cowboys fan base have demanded the opponent who ruined their season should be the Week 1 matchup. For ’08, the Cowboys should have opened up on that Thursday night in New Jersey. In ’09, the Cowboys should have hosted the Eagles in formerly Cowboys Stadium in Week 1. In ’10, the Cowboys should have hosted the Vikings. 2011 was an exception, but ’12 was the norm and the reward as the Cowboys opened up Week 1 against the Giants and spoiled their home opening celebration for another Super Bowl season.
In 2007, Cowboys fans just wanted to get to the season opener. They didn’t care who they played since the Saints and the Seahawks weren’t same place finishers. Debuting Tony Romo on Opening Night on Sunday Night Football was special. The selection of the opponent really didn’t matter.
At this point in the Cowboys-Giants series, there were no acts which either team really needed to avenge. Yes, the Giants did dispatch the Cowboys handily on Monday Night Football when now starting quarterback Tony Romo was hurriedly inserted at halftime to forever replace Drew Bledsoe and end the quarterback carousel. Yes, Tony Romo did lead the Cowboys on a game-winning drive in the December rematch to defeat the Giants and retain first place in the NFC East. But these were things divisional opponets were obligated to do to one another. There was hardly any ill will on the level we have seen today.
In addition to their ninth starting quarterback since Troy Aikman’s 2000 retirement, the Dallas Cowboys were also debuting their seventh head coach in franchise history, Wade Phillips. Brought in to improve the 3-4 defense preceding coach Bill Parcells left behind, Phillips was seen as a pushover and someone who would let the players and owner/GM run all over him. His training camp in the San Antonio Alamodome was dubbed “Camp Cupcake” by the local media.
1:10 into the contest, they may as well have been correct, for that’s how long it took the New York Giants defense to drive down the field to put up six points. The three-play drive culminated in a 60-yard Plaxico Burress touchdown catch and run that demonstrated precisely why the Cowboys secondary badly needed Terence Newman’s groin to heal. Rather than go up 7-0, the Giants only went up 6-0 because the Giants’ long-snapper drilled the snap into the Texas Stadium artificial turf and punter Jeff Feagles couldn’t set up the hold before the Cowboys special teams defenders clobbered him.
Now, it was what Cowboys fans had been awaiting since the failed Hail Mary in Seattle’s Qwest Field some eight months prior: Tony Romo’s offense.
The only thing disappointing about Romo’s thirteen-play drive, which featured two 3rd and long conversions, was it didn’t convert the third 3rd and long. Nick Folk converted the field goal try into three points. Midway through the first quarter, it was 6-3 Giants.
The impending Giants series was a bit of a scare for the Cowboys. On a 2nd and 3 from the Dallas 35, Eli Manning hit wide receiver Amani Toomer for a touchdown pass. However, the officials determined Toomer’s foot had touched the white chalk and therefore was an incomplete pass. The Giants later failed to convert of a 4th and 2 from the Dallas 34.
The two sides traded fruitless possessions until early in the second quarter when the Cowboys took over at their own 44 yard line. A dump off to backup runningback Marion Barber led the Cowboys down to the New York 27, well inside Nick Folk’s field goal range. On the next two plays, the Cowboys weren’t able to gain any yards. Their third down play was a Jason Witten reception, but he was just a yard short of the marker. It was 4th and 1 from the New York 18, and the Cowboys were going for it.
Marion Barber was known as a power back, a short yardage back. However, new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett ran a sweep to the outside right for the dreadlocked back. Barber not only gained the first down, but he somersaulted into the end zone for a touchdown. 10-6 Cowboys.
The next Giants possession was even better for Cowboys fans than the ones that were fruitless, for the Cowboys’ backup cornerback, Jacques Reeves, who was in the lineup to replace the injured Terence Newman, picked off Eli Manning at the New York 41. He was accidentally bounced to the ground by his own teammate, defensive end Chris Canty, who would later go on to play for the New York Giants two seasons later. It only took the Cowboys seven plays off of this turnover to score a touchdown when Tony Romo hit Jason Witten on a 12-yard route over the middle. 17-6 Cowboys.
Though things were looking grand for America’s Team, a harbinger of things to come in the next three and a half seasons under Wade Phillips befell the Cowboys. After the Giants scored a touchdown on a twelve-play drive that melted 3:28 off the clock, Cowboys returner Tyson Thompson fumbled the kickoff right at the Cowboys’ own 26 yard line. Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes added three extra points to cut the Cowboys’ lead to one point, the deficit caused by the Giants’ poor long-snapping.
Half of the game was gone, and the Cowboys only targeted Terrell Owens only four times. The mercurial twelfth-year receiver caught none of them. Now, with the Cowboys starting the second half with possession of the football, perhaps T.O. would have a catch or two. He had two: one for 18 yards and a touchdown catch for 22 yards in which he juggled and successfully hauled in the grab before leaping out of the back of the end zone. He helped cap off a six-play drive that took a little under three minutes to put the Cowboys at 24-16.
The Giants would respond with a Lawrence Tynes field goal to close the gap to five, and the two NFC East foes would trade meaningless possessions before Dallas scored again on a four-play drive that started at their own 33 with a 38-yard catch by steady Pro Bowler Jason Witten. Romo capped off the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run of his own. Upon scoring the touchdown, Romo leapt into the open arms of center Andre Gurode, who had been giving Romo snaps to jump for the entire night. The Cowboys were up 12 points as the fourth quarter was only a minute away.
Derrick Ward, the Giants’ fourth-year runningback, galloped 44 yards to expedite New York’s scoring drive. From inside the Dallas 20, all the Giants could show were another three points thanks to Tynes’ right foot. On the next drive, the Cowboys drove down the field in three plays to score another touchdown to go up 38-22. Terrell Owens had already scored two touchdowns under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. This looked like the beginning of beautiful relationship, especially since Garrett called T.O. immediately upon his hiring to tell the receiver he would work to get him the ball.
There was 11:43 left in the fourth quarter. All the Giants needed were two touchdowns and two successful two-point conversions. The first touchdown came arduously in a ten-play drive that burned over four minutes off of the precious game clock. In the impending and obligatory two-point conversion, Eli Manning had trouble getting rid of the ball. Before he could pray for anything positive, Cowboys rookie outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, their first round draft choice, grabbed the Ole Miss product and slammed him into the turf on his right shoulder, a very momentous play in the game.
New York was ten points away from tying the contest. The Cowboys had 7:13 left. Eli Manning had already amassed four fourth quarter comebacks in his career, his first coming against the Dallas Cowboys on 1/2/05 in the 2004 season finale in Giants Stadium. Firsthand, the Cowboys knew the destiny of this mouth-breathing, speech-slurring captain. Realistically, all they had to do was evaporate five minutes of time before handing it back to the Giants. That would be the conservative philosophy. The gunslinger’s philosophy would be to go down and score. That was in accord with quarterback Tony Romo, who threw a pick to Gibril Wilson while aiming for Terrell Owens. The Giants took over at the Dallas 22 yard line. It only took them five plays to score a necessary touchdown, and there was no two-point conversion try. The margin was closed to three: 38-35 Cowboys with 4:15 remaining.
Cyber-sophists love to attribute Albert Einstein for having said insanity is defined by continuing to try things that don’t work. Romo tried the same insane thing that cost him an interception, though this time it worked. On 3rd and 7 from their own 49 yard line, Romo hit Sam Hurd for a touchdown on a go route. No one could catch him, not even the G-Men.
With three minutes remaining and all of their timeouts left along with the two-minute warning, a comeback, though difficult, was not out of the realm of possibility. That is, if Eli Manning were on the field. Instead, like a reunion of the SEC’s quarterbacks from 2000-03, Jared Lorenzen took the field. The corpulent quarterback, weighing in at 315 pounds, rumbled into the huddle. He hadn’t played more than one snap for the Giants in his three-year career, and it showed. From their own 34, Lorenzen completed only one pass, a seven-yard reception to wide receiver Steve Smith. His next two passes fell incomplete. His fourth down attempt was a two-yard run that resulted in a slide for two yards. Turnovers on downs. Cowboys football.
It wasn’t yet a Cowboys victory, for the Giants still had three timeouts and the two-minute warning. The Cowboys were 2:08 away from starting 1-0 for only the second time in the decade. On first down, Marion Barber gained nine yards. Two-minute warning. Marion Barber gained two yards. Timeout New York. Marion Barber ran for one yard. Timeout New York. 1:52 remaining. Marion Barber smashed for seven yards. Final New York timeout. Marion Barber for one yard. The Cowboys called their second timeout to formulate a plan for 4th and one from the Giants 23 yard line. The Cowboys came out and rushed Romo for one yard to seal the deal.
Cowboys win. For the fourth time in series history, the Cowboys beat the Giants to start the season. It’s a feat the Giants had never done to Dallas, not ever.
The highest-scoring Giants-Cowboys contest win did not come without its costs. Starting nose tackle Jason Ferguson’s biceps tear was severe enough to put him on the injured reserve, leaving the Cowboys press corps and fans groping for a replacement. Talks of Marcus Spears moving to nose tackle were floated as a probable solution. Eli Manning’s shoulder injury, intially reported by ESPN’s Ed Werder as being severe enough to keep him out up to four weeks, wasn’t inhibiting at all. The four-year veteran made his second start of the season and didn’t miss one en route to a Super Bowl victory.
To get to that Super Bowl victory, the wild card Giants would defeat the top-seeded Cowboys 21-17 in the divisional round of the playoffs. Dallas became the first NFC team since the 1990 playoff realignment to lose in the first round after securing home field advantage.
In some ways, that 9/9 meeting was an innocuous time. There was no bitterness of a series sweep or a playoff victory in the rivalry just yet. The two teams were equal. Now, two Giants Super Bowl victories later, each subsequent meeting is like a family reunion. The Giants are the successful brother and the Cowboys the delinquent, under achieving brother who blew a full ride to college and now works as an assistant manager at Whataburger. And it shows each time the Giants post another victory in the Cowboys’ billion-dollar palace.
On Sunday night, the knavish brother may vanquish the successful brother, showing him up in front of the relatives. But it’s only one step in a march of many towards equaling what the rival brother has done.