To understand the level of contempt John Mara has always had for the Cowboys, you have to travel back in time to his childhood. When he grew up in Westchester County, the son of the late Giants owner Wellington Mara, he was an eyewitness to so many humiliating losses to Tom Landry's teams that he often asked his father if he could stay home from school the next day to avoid the taunting of his classmates.
"During our dark days from 1964-1980, they were rising to prominence and became America's Team and had the type of team that a lot of the rest of us aspired to," Mara said in an interview in advance of Sunday's game against Dallas at Cowboys Stadium. "There are some very painful memories."
Now that he's an adult, it is only slightly more bearable for the Giants' president and co-owner to watch his team lose to the franchise still known as America's Team.
Mara ticks off some of the more agonizing losses of more recent times:
Losing in overtime to former Giants coach Bill Parcells in 2003, when the Giants had a 32-29 lead with 11 seconds to play but saw Parcells' Cowboys tie it at the end of regulation and win in the extra session.
Losing the final regular-season game in 1993, when Smith fought through a separated shoulder and helped the Cowboys win to secure the NFC East title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
And on and on . . . including opening night this season, when the Cowboys beat an inexplicably listless Giants team in its first game after winning the Super Bowl.
"It's a big rival, and there's something special about that, just like there is with the Eagles and Redskins," Mara said. "When you win, it's special, and when you lose, it hurts a little more."
The stakes again are high in the 102nd meeting between the long-standing rivals. The Giants, winners of five of their last six since the loss to the Cowboys, stand atop the NFC East at 5-2. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have struggled in recent weeks and are 3-3 after barely beating the 1-5 Panthers last Sunday.
The Giants have taken away some of the sting for Mara in recent years. They beat the Cowboys in a divisional-round playoff game on the way to victory in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season and have won three straight times at the Cowboys' $1-billion stadium -- often called "Jerry's World" after the team's flamboyant owner, Jerry Jones, whose outspoken ways run counter to lessons preached by Mara's father.
Late in the 1996 season, the usually reserved Wellington Mara was so ebullient about a 20-6 victory over Dallas that he stepped out of character and said of beating Jones' Cowboys, "It's nice to see arrogance humbled."
"That quote was after a game in a season where we weren't doing so well, and we beat them at Giants Stadium," John Mara said. "I remember cringing because I knew that was going to be a newsworthy statement. It was out of character, but they had been beating us for quite a while. To finally beat them, it was always special to him because they had so much success in the '60s and '70s and then in the '90s. When you beat them, you felt it was that much more special."
Wellington Mara and Jones were rivals not only within the division but when it came to league matters. Where Jones often was interested in increasing the Cowboys' financial success with little regard for the overall well-being of the NFL, Mara considered revenue sharing a core principle of the league's success and bristled at many of Jones' ideas.
There is no such animosity between the younger Mara and Jones, even after the Cowboys' owner suggested during a pep rally in training camp that fans should come to Sunday's game to "watch us beat the Giants' [butts].''
In fact, Jones and Mara often work together on league matters. Both were instrumental in helping to end the 2011 NFL lockout, which was resolved shortly before the preseason.
"I get along with him very well, and we serve on a bunch of committees together," Mara said of Jones. Mara also is on the competition committee with Jones' son, Stephen. "Stephen and I get along well,'' he said, "and I'd like to keep it that way."
But when it comes to game day, Mara views the Cowboys the way he has since his early days: as the enemy.
Another big one Sunday, and the emotions again will run high. But even though the Giants have had their share of success in recent years against the Cowboys, Mara is not about to pronounce a definitive pendulum swing in the rivalry.
"These things always go in cycles," he said. "We've had some success against them lately, although they did completely outplay us in Week 1. So I'm not going to make any boastful predictions or declarations that we've turned the tide. Life changes too quickly in the NFL for that."