Eli Manning is looking forward to going back to the visitors' locker room at Cowboys Stadium on Monday night, especially the little attendant's room behind the main section.
The last time Manning was there, he'd just led the New York Giants to a comeback victory in the first regular-season game ever played at Jerry Jones' $1.2 billion playpen. He celebrated with a bit of graffiti -- tagging a wall as he'd done in other visiting locker rooms in the NFL. None of the other walls he scribbled on, however, were so pristine and he never left a message with such bluster.
Eli 10 Manning
First Win in the New Stadium
"So," Manning said this week, "it will be interesting to see if anybody else has signed the wall, or if I'm the only one, or if they erased it."
Well, Eli, at the risk of ruining the surprise...
It's gone. Painted over. Forgotten, the Cowboys hope, just like the start of this season.
At 1-4, Dallas is off to its poorest start since 2001, although the situation is really much worse than that. See, the '01 team was supposed to struggle, while this club was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender after winning the division and reaching the conference semifinals last season.
The Cowboys have been in every game they've played -- only to find a way to lose through a combination of penalties, turnovers (too many on offense, not enough on defense) and kickoff coverage. Another loss would drop them to 0-3 at home for the first time since 1989, when they went 1-15 in the first year under Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson.
That's not the only history Dallas needs to be mindful of this weekend.
The Cowboys are at a make-or-break point for playoff hopes. From 1990 (when the playoffs expanded to the current six-team-per-conference system) through last season, just five of the 97 clubs that started 1-4 recovered enough to reach the postseason. No team has gone 1-5 and still made it.
The most direct route into the playoffs is winning the division, and Dallas still has five games left against NFC East foes. The Cowboys are already 2½ games behind, so they have little margin for error.
Jones personally tried to rally the troops this week, speaking to them at their Monday meeting. Instead of a win-or-else speech, he gave them a verbal hug, basically saying to keep up the good fight and everything will work out.
"Jerry is great," quarterback Tony Romo said. "He's so positive and optimistic and it just trickles down to the rest of the organization."
Romo would love to forget last year's game against the Giants because he was a big reason for New York winning. He threw three interceptions, all leading to touchdowns. New York still needed a field goal as time expired to pull out the victory in front of 105,121 fans, the largest crowd ever to see an NFL regular-season game.
The Giants (4-2) are coming in on a roll, having won three straight since enduring back-to-back blowout losses. They are tied with Philadelphia for the division lead. This will be their first game against an NFC East club.
New York's identity starts with a swarming pass rush (NFC-best 21 sacks) and an offense that's cranking on the hands of Hakeem Nicks (NFC-best six touchdown catches) and the legs of Ahmad Bradshaw (second-best in NFC at 110.6 yards per game).
Bradshaw has been part of the Giants going 4-1 against Dallas starting with the 2007 playoffs, but only a small part. He's never had more than nine carries against the Cowboys as the backup to Brandon Jacobs. Now their roles are reversed.
Bradshaw's specialty is the big play. He's had the team's longest run each of the last three years, and he leads the NFL with eight rushes of at least 20 yards this season.
"He's an outstanding runner," New York coach Tom Coughlin said. "He gives you everything he's got. He's difficult to tackle. He's powerful. He can break tackles. He has the speed to go. He's another one of those very highly competitive, highly compassionate guys who has demonstrated this over the years."
Dallas went more than a season's worth of games without allowing a 100-yard rusher until Houston's Arian Foster and Tennessee's Chris Johnson did so in consecutive games. The Cowboys held Minnesota's Adrian Peterson under 100 last week, and have the scheduling misfortune of facing yet another stat leader.
"We've got to go out there and play no matter what," Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. "It's always a good challenge. You want to play against the best players as a competitor. You want to go out there and see what you can do. Our job is to stop them."
The Giants are hoping they don't have to wait until next fall to return to Cowboys Stadium. They'd love to be working there on Super Bowl Sunday in February.
Under those circumstances, might Manning be tempted to bring a pen, some paint or a carving knife to leave a real tribute?
"I don't think so," he said. "I'd like to be there, but I wouldn't want to disrespect the Cowboys or their new stadium."