When the lights come on and the nation turns its hungry eyes to football, Jerry Jones' team will find itself in a remarkably familiar spot.
Jeremiah: Kickoff preview
On the turf at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., staring at the New York Giants and knowing that more is at stake than a mere victory against a bitter rival. It's where the Cowboys were when a frustrating 2011 season ended, forcing Dallas to head home while the Giants cruised to the Canyon of Heroes.
At 8:30 p.m. ET, when the excitement has reached a fever pitch, Dallas will get its first chance to right what went wrong last year. No, a win won't retroactively put the Cowboys in the 2011 playoffs or earn them a ring. But it would make an opening statement and knock their division foes off the mountaintop.
The time can't come fast enough.
"I found out we were playing them first, and I was excited," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "Just to be able to get back in the exact same spot that we finished in ... As a competitor and as an athlete, you love that you get to go back and challenge someone like that, especially the world champs. That's going to be a great test for our football team."
The results will be available soon, and there will be nowhere to hide them. In Dallas, that's always the case. It's a reality that Jones welcomes.
"It's a great opportunity for us, is how I look at it," said Jones, who was informed of the NFL's plans for the opener via phone call. "Very meaningful. Everybody has an appreciation for what we're up against, the quality of the team, and so to have success would be very meaningful. ... Starting at that level of consequence is quite a challenge."
How much would a win or loss indicate? History says quite a bit.
Preseason snapshots have been promising, particularly with regard to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's unit. All will be unveiled Wednesday, which will help soothe Ryan's angst.
"Hell, they knocked us out of the playoffs, so I took offense to it," Ryan said of last year's finale. "I had a lot to do with it. I don't want that to happen again. Did it ruin my offseason? No, they were the best team in the league. They won the Super Bowl. Do we plan on doing something about it? Yeah, we plan on playing a hell of a lot better."
Jones is preparing for all options. As in, his team could lose. In fact, Dallas has lost seven of its last nine meetings with the Giants. The emotion is there. As Carr said, "The tension is thick in the air." But the season will go on, regardless of what happens Wednesday.
"As with any NFL game," Jones cautioned, "it's not (a measure) of how you ultimately wind up one way or the other. But it's a big game in front of the entire world of sports. It's a highly visible game."
There will be hoopla. Old-school rap group Naughty By Nature will perform outside the stadium, and Queen Latifah will sing the national anthem. The G-Men already have their rings, which were handed out in May, but there will be a ceremony to honor the franchise's four Super Bowl titles.
"The defending Super Bowl champions and we get the first crack at them?" Carr said. "You feel it more and more each day. Guys are ready for wins, we're ready for tomorrow. I'm here. We've been hearing about our opponent for a long time. We're ready to go out and play."
The last time the Cowboys took the field, they left with a sour taste in their mouths. As Romo said, even into the offseason, "that always sticks with you." It's what helps push him.
It's also why Romo can't wait to "take it to the field."
"If we play the way we're capable of," Ryan said, "that's a fact."