FRISCO, Texas – All of a sudden, the moment is here.
As long and uncertain as the wait has been, it's over now. It's been an 11-month marathon from the fractured ankle that ended Dak Prescott's season, to the contract negotiation that put his future with the Cowboys in doubt.
If that wasn't exhausting enough, thrown in a muscle strain that has made him one of the most-discussed players in the NFL over the course of training camp. It's no surprise that, asked about it, all Prescott could do was smile wryly.
"It definitely hasn't been a blur, but time goes fast," he said.
With that long list of talking points to consider, it's almost surreal to be at this point. Prescott spoke with reporters for roughly 20 minutes on Friday afternoon, and it is true that much of the conversation centered around injury rehab and taking 11 months away from the game.
But at the same time, the press conference was peppered with questions about the season opener. It was an irrefutable reminder that Prescott is less than one week away from what he has prepared for – the first game of this NFL season, Thursday night against Tampa Bay.
"I'm definitely ready. I'm excited. I put in a lot of work to get to this point," Prescott said. "Whether it was months ago, rehabbing the ankle, to the last few months keeping the feet working while I was letting my arm rest. There is so much work I put into this I'm just excited to go out there and be a part of the full game."
The league office got this one right. There are several scintillating matchups that could have served just fine as the much-anticipated NFL Kickoff Game. But Prescott returning from injury to lead the biggest, most polarizing team in the league into Raymond James Stadium, against the greatest quarterback in league history and the defending Super Bowl champions?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell couldn't write a better script if he tried, and Prescott wouldn't want him to.
"I wouldn't want it any other way, to be honest," he said. "I love night games. I love playing on primetime I think it's just set for the perfect stage. Them coming off of the Super Bowl title and us, having fans back to full capacity, I think this is what the NFL and the world needs."
Prescott needs it, too. As exciting as this matchup is to think about, it's just one of 17 games. Lost in the shuffle of whether he'd be ready for the season opener is the fact that Prescott is only just now getting to work regularly with the starting offense.
As he noted, that's at least slightly mitigated by continuity. Almost everyone in the Cowboys' offensive huddle has worked with Prescott for several years, and this will be his third-straight season with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore calling plays into his ear.
On top of that, Prescott said he's attacked the opportunities he's been able to have as intensely as possible in an effort to stay sharp.
"I've just been out here in practice, individuals, taking every rep like it's a game rep and taking that over to whatever rep they allow me to do out here in practice," he said. "I know I'm conditioning myself and getting myself ready for that game speed, that when that time comes, we're preparing and putting so much pressure on it at practice and in these different situations that we're planning for the game to be easier."
That's an admirable goal, but it's doubtful the game will be easier if Tampa Bay has anything to say about it. Prescott paused for comedic effect when he asked if he was "eager" to get hit for the first time in 11 months on Thursday night.
"I mean, I'm excited for when that moment comes, but I wouldn't say I'm eager," he said. "I think it'd be great to come out of that game not touching the ground, but how realistic is that? Obviously it doesn't sound very realistic."
It does not realistic. Not against a defense that tallied 48 sacks last year and is run by as aggressive a defensive coordinator as Todd Bowles.
But that's part of the game, and it's a crucial part of the process – the culmination of a long journey. Dak Prescott is back, and he's going to play football on Thursday night.
The next round of ups and downs are sure to follow, but that's something to celebrate.