Saquon Barkley’s draft day experience was such a blur of emotion and activity that it can be hard for him to recollect all the details. The important moments he does remember, such as looking at his phone and seeing the New Jersey area code that let him know the Giants were going to take him with the second overall pick.
Another that stands out was a walk he took through one of the concourses to meet with reporters after the pick was made. The route happened to take him past a group of fans all decked out in their Cowboys gear.
“We’ll see you back here soon!” he said they told him.
“That,” he said, “is when it hit me.”
The irony, that is. That he became a Giant not only in enemy territory but in enemy headquarters. The draft in April was held at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s almost like a comic book origin story: Forged in the very place he one day would be called upon to conquer.
This week, he’ll return to Dallas, not as a player in a fancy suit coming out of college and unsure where he might land for the start of his professional career, but as a full-fledged NFL playmaker. His 68-yard touchdown run on Sunday against the Jaguars was his first highlight in the league. Now the Giants would like him to add a few more. And what better place to do it than where the running back’s career with them technically began.
“That’s gonna be cool to go back to Dallas and relive that moment,” Barkley told Newsday while speaking on behalf of the new video game "Call of Duty: Black Ops 4." Barkley recently held a special viewing of the game for players at his alma mater, Penn State.
Ideally, he’ll have many more opportunities to play at AT&T Stadium. The Giants go there once a year, so as long as Barkley is a healthy member of the roster he should be able to return on an annual basis. This, though, will be his first chance to make an impression on his new team’s most bitter rival.
It’s also an opportunity to perform in front of a player Barkley often cites as someone he studies and tries to emulate: Ezekiel Elliott.
The two both come from the Big Ten but crossed paths just once when they were in college. That was in Barkley’s freshman year. But they already made a connection as NFL players. They were supposed to train together in the offseason (it didn’t work out schedule-wise, Barkley said). And after Sunday’s touchdown in Barkley’s debut, he received a congratulatory text from Elliott.
When it comes to rookie running backs, Elliott is pretty much the recent bar to clear. In 2016, he ran for a league-leading 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. He came up short of the NFL rookie record of 1,808 set by Eric Dickerson in 1983, but he also sat out the final game of the season to rest for the playoffs.
“He came in and made a true impact on his team,” Barkley said. “He’s a special weapon. Definitely he set the standard for rookies at the running back position.”
Barkley, of course, would like to eclipse it.
He’s got a whole season to try. And then a whole career to try to conquer other records and milestones and rungs on the ladder of greatness.
But he’ll only have one first game as a Giant against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. It just so happens to come in his second time being there as a Giant.
“To go back to that stadium where my dreams came true,” he said, “hopefully I can leave this time with more good memories. And a win.”