Pat Shurmur was a first-year assistant coach with the Eagles in 1999. One dark pre-dawn morning that season he was bringing his garbage to the curb before going to work when a neighbor approached him – startled him, really - bearing a message. It was a simple one.
“He said, 'Listen, you can go 2-14 if you beat Dallas twice,' " Shurmur recalled.
Now that he’s the head coach of the Giants, there is a lot different from his early days in Philadelphia. One thing that carries over, though, is the disdain the Giants and their fans have for the Cowboys. Shurmur was part of plenty of NFC East rivalry games during his seasons with the Eagles, and on Sunday night he’ll get his first taste of the Giants playing the Cowboys.
Two wins won't cut it this year, but an early win against Dallas will go a long way toward endearing Shurmur to the Giants' fans.
It is a game, he insisted, that only counts as one and he tried to downplay the contempt.
“When you get a team ready to play you look at the tactics and you look at the players and all of that,” Shurmur said. “You’d have to ask the fans who they want to beat the most. That’s more that type of deal.”
But it's one that can bleed into the locker room. It wasn’t long ago that this week leading up to a game against Dallas would be filled with Brandon Jacobs and Justin Tuck expressing their outright hatred for the Cowboys.
This week, it’s a little more difficult to find that kind of bile. Players on opposing teams are more familiar with each other, they train together, they text congratulatory messages to each other after successful games. But the vitriol is still there.
Asked if the hatred of the Cowboys has dissipated, linebacker B.J. Goodson said quietly but firmly: “No. It’s a tradition here. So, no. Exclamation point.”
Goodson got a head start on his dislike of the Cowboys. He declined to say what team he grew up rooting for, but made it clear he always rooted against Dallas.
“They were a little too flashy for my liking,” he said. “I’m a gritty guy.”
With so many different and young players, those who have been around for a while have taken it upon themselves to educate the newcomers in the ways of the Giants-Cowboys rivalry.
“Everyone is up to speed,” long-snapper Zak DeOssie said confidently.
Safety Landon Collins said that for him, the hate must wait.
“They’re just another team in our way, honestly,” Collins said on Wednesday before acknowledging that will change on Sunday. “The atmosphere is always crazy when we get down there and play those boys at home. It’s a different feel. I feel like once we get there we feel the hatred. That’s where the fumes and the emotions and the tempers come.”
Rookie G Will Hernandez said the Cowboys aren’t really that different from anyone else. “I hate everyone we play,” he said.
He played at UTEP, which was in Cowboys territory, so he knew plenty of fans there. But he grew up in Las Vegas as a fan of the Steelers, which of course meant he rooted against the Cowboys. During his predraft workouts this offseason his agent, who also represents some of the Dallas offensive linemen, put him in touch with the current Cowboys. Hernandez admitted that they were “real cool guys.” But when they put on their Cowboys uniform? “That changes them,” he said.
There are other reasons why this game is so important besides the uniforms the two teams will be wearing. Both are 0-1 after opening-season losses. Falling to 0-2 has traditionally been an almost impossible hole to climb out of and reach the playoffs.
“We don’t worry about that,” Shurmur said. “That’s fun for everybody to talk about outside of the building. We didn’t do enough in the first game to win and we’re working to do what we can to win this next one. Period. End of story.”
If only that were true.
One of the newer Giants who should have little difficulty jumping into the rivalry is linebacker Connor Barwin, who spent four seasons with the Eagles. That team is certainly one of the biggest adversaries of the Giants, and there is no love lost between the two fanbases that live in such close proximity to each other. Yet when Barwin signed with the Giants this offseason, he said he heard from a lot of Eagles fans who wished him well.
“That’s all right,” he said they told him. “As long as it’s not the Cowboys.”