Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
ARLINGTON, Texas - Two of the NFL's biggest brands returned to action Sunday night on the league's biggest stage -- both literally, in the form of mammoth AT&T Stadium, and figuratively, in terms of a prime-time TV audience on NBC.
But something was missing from the big show.
Well, actually, it was someone.
Victor Cruz, that personable fellow who appears in Foot Locker and NFL.com Fantasy Football commercials alongside Odell Beckham Jr., was not on the field with his acting and playing partner when the Giants visited the Cowboys.
The good news is that the prognosis for Cruz is more promising than for another Giant, Jason Pierre-Paul, who likely will not be playing for some time because of a hand injury suffered in a July 4 fireworks mishap.
But the lingering left calf injury that has kept Cruz off the practice and playing fields since Aug. 17 is a real concern and a significant disappointment.
The pairing of Cruz and Beckham is more than a convenient marketing gimmick. It is much of the basis on which fans were anticipating a potentially dynamic offense.
Mostly, though, the whole thing is built on anticipation. Cruz, Beckham and No. 3 receiver Rueben Randle were on the field for a grand total of six quarters last season.
Regardless of the outcome Sunday night, for the Giants to be at their best, those two figure to need to be at their best.
Coach Tom Coughlin said in the days leading up to the opener that Cruz is "getting better. He's improved, no doubt. As soon as he's ready to go, he'll be on the field and practicing."
A tear to the patellar tendon in his right leg in Philadelphia last Oct. 12 ended Cruz's season and helped launch the OBJ phenomenon, which peaked here with a catch in late November that you might recall.
But the synergistic effect of the two weapons remains on hold.
In the meantime, Beckham, Randle, Preston Parker, Dwayne Harris and rookie Geremy Davis will have to hold the fort at wide receiver, supplemented by assorted tight ends and backs.
The Giants apparently like what they have, given that earlier this month, they cut James Jones, who turned up in Chicago on Sunday and caught two touchdown passes for the Packers after a not-particularly-impressive summer in blue.
"Of course, we all want Vic to be out there playing," Beckham said last week. "It's hard when this is the one thing that you love. Not that it's taken away from you, but you can't be out there with your team. I know he wants to be out there.
"All we can do is go out there and make him proud. Play to the best of our ability, and when he's back with us and back to going, I'm definitely looking forward to it and excited."
Said Randle, "You want him to come out there when he's comfortable. We don't want him to rush it. So at the same time, we feel what he feels, and if he's not ready, he's not ready. It's our job to make up what he lacks."
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was bullish on the no-Cruz attack in the days leading up to the game.
"We're going to take the approach that who's out here and who's practicing, we're going to have a good plan for them," he said. "If we get any surprises or bonuses, we'll be ready for that, too. We'll roll with the punches."
Cruz had a busy offseason, appearing in ads solo in addition to the ones with Beckham, playing himself on the HBO program "Ballers" and generally becoming one of the recognizable faces in New York sports.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. But the sooner that face is covered by a helmet and facemask, the better.