Dak Prescott is writing one inspirational Comeback Player of the Year story, a comeback from a gruesome compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle a year ago against the Giants when a hush fell over AT&T Stadium and tears were shed amid fears that a long and prosperous career was suddenly in jeopardy.
It is Cowboys Week a year later for the Giants, a week old Giants understand fully, and new Giants and young Giants learn about quickly. And here is Dak Prescott, playing the best quarterback of his life, at a time when the Giants are desperate to get to 2-3.
Jason Garrett had been instrumental in the drafting of Prescott in the fourth round in 2016, had challenged him on his predraft DUI during the draft process, had called him on draft night to welcome him to the Cowboys. Garrett had been Prescott’s head coach for four seasons. On the day that Prescott became one of the NFL fraternity’s fallen brothers, Garrett rushed to where he lay before the cart arrived and America’s Quarterback cried on it. Garrett was just five games into his Giants tenure as Joe Judge’s offensive coordinator.
This was a moment in time when hate froze over between Giants and Cowboys.
“It was a really tough moment for me and really for anybody who’s been around him,” Garrett recalled Thursday. “Dak’s a special guy. Great relationship with him, a great friendship with him, and someone who’s made my life significantly better. To see a guy like that who you’re competing against go down and you know it’s a serious injury, the human side of everybody comes out. No one wants to see injuries in this game. Nobody wants to see injuries to people they love and care about. So that was not an easy moment for me or for anybody who is close to him.
“But he doesn’t surprise me one bit in how he responded to it, immediately in the aftermath what he needed to do to get on the road to recovery and what he’s done since to come back and play as well as he has. He’s a special guy.
“He’s made my life way better.”
For three hours Sunday at Jerry World, Prescott (10 touchdowns, two interceptions, 1,066 yards, 75.2 completion percentage) will try to make it way worse, and Logan Ryan will try to checkmate him in what will be a compelling chess match.
“He looks really good … he looks healthy, which is great,” Ryan said, “and he looks like he’s operating as one of the best quarterbacks in football, just how they’re moving the ball and the command he has, great command at the line of scrimmage.
“You gotta root for a guy that’s a good guy, had a tough. Injury, obviously. … You gotta root for stories like that.
“I just love playing against Dak as the competitor that I am and we are. … Between me and him, I’m happy that he’s back … I’m happy that he’s operating at a high level, because I think when you play the game for the years and you watch the Super Bowls and you’ve had some contracts, I think what keeps you in the game is the competition, and you want to compete against the best. Everyone wants to play against Tom Brady and play against the best. Dak’s one of the best right now, so we want to play against him and we want to play well. It’s a great challenge.”
It was Ryan who made the Tackle Heard ’Round The NFL on Prescott that fateful day when Prescott attempted to stiff-arm him in the third quarter. A player can be haunted by the memory.
“I really think it depends on your intent,” Ryan said. “I think last year was just a freakish play. It’s a gruesome injury, but it was a freakish play. It was a tackle I made over 500 times in my career, and that one just felt different. … It was unfortunate, really. But for me, if I had any ill intent, or malicious[ness], or try to go hurt somebody, then I probably wouldn’t sleep well at night. A normal play between two competitors, we gotta call it what it is, and move on and try to come back better from it.”
On the postgame Zoom that day, Ryan grieved that Prescott was finished for the season before Jerry Jones would ultimately reward his franchise quarterback with a four-year, $160 million deal.
“I hope he comes back. I hope he gets $500 million,” Ryan said that day. “He deserves it. Honestly, that was the worst thing that happened today. I got a sick taste in my stomach for it.”
He called it “bigger than football,” and it is always bigger than football whenever one of the sport’s gladiators goes down. Who can forget the image of Lawrence Taylor screaming for the trainers the Nov. 18, 1985, night he tackled Joe Theismann on a flea-flicker attempt and broke his enemy’s right tibia and fibula? LT called Theismann in the hospital the next morning. Theismann would never play a 13th season. And Theismann would feel as terrible for Alex Smith as LT felt for him when Smith broke his right tibia and fibula on another Nov. 18, this one in 2018.
Saquon Barkley recalled how Bears safety Eddie Jackson reached out to him following his Week 2 tackle that ended Barkley’s season with a brutal knee injury.
“But not just Eddie, just a whole bunch of players in the NFL when that happened,” Barkley said, “and now, even in games, a lot of people are coming up to me saying that [they’re] happy to see me back out there, it’s better for the league to have me out there healthy. At the end of the day obviously you’re competing on Sundays and you’re trying to take each other’s head off to get the win, but the NFL’s kind of a big brotherhood, and you never want to see anyone go down. We all just want to see everyone thrive and be successful and stay healthy.”
On the postgame Zoom, Ryan said: “I just told him, ‘What would Kobe do?’ ” He had asked himself that same question when he broke his own fibula in December 2018, and made sure to send a Prescott a pair of books — “Relentless” and Kobe’s “The Mamba Mentality” — to help guide him through the rehab.
“He can throw the ball right to me on the first play,” Ryan joked, “and we’ll call it a truce, and we’re good to go. Then we can kick the game off, they’ll be down seven nothing.”
And for those three hours, the Cowboys can try to knock the Giants’ heads off, and vice versa. But only for those three hours.