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Helman: On Dak & The Value Of The Narrative


FRISCO, Texas – I didn't notice the first, second or maybe even the third time I glanced over the Cowboys' 2021 schedule this spring.

But at some point in May, it clicked and my eyes bugged out of my face.

You'll never, ever convince me this weekend is a coincidence. I'm well aware that the NFL considers tens of thousands of schedule combinations in the leadup to the annual release, and there are 31 other teams and storylines to consider. But it can't be an accident.

It's just way too weird for Week 5, at AT&T Stadium to once again be the New York Giants – the same opponent, the same weekend, the same building that saw Dak Prescott's season come to a devastating end last season.

This league is the greatest reality television show in the world, so I guess it'd be naïve to assume they'd play it any other way. For Dak Prescott, his broken and dislocated right ankle is ancient history – something he insisted he'd buried way back in the spring. For the world at large, it's too juicy a narrative to ignore.

When it was pointed out to him last Sunday that the injury is all reporters will be talking about this week, Prescott's answer got a laugh.

It was a simple question: "Why?"

I've been thinking about that a lot throughout Prescott's long road to this moment. From the time he was carted off the field in this game last year, it has been the subject of too much speculation to even keep tabs on.

That speculation was rampant in the early going of 2021, when posts he'd make to his Instagram would fuel two days of talk about his ankle. It ratcheted up a notch when he and the Cowboys agreed to a $160 million contract extension while he was still in the process of recovery.

"I thought about jogging out here, and jumping up on the stage," Prescott said the day he signed the deal. "But I don't know if y'all are ready for that."

People got ready in a hurry. Within two months of signing the extension, Prescott was a full participant in OTAs, fielding a litany of questions about the ankle every step of the way. It reached a point in June where Prescott eventually made those famous comments – not only claiming that he'd buried the injury, but asking for the media's help in doing the same.

"Put that right on the tombstone," he said.

A training camp shoulder injury helped that happen, but the ankle talk is back in the forefront at the start of the regular season. And if it wasn't before, it certainly is now, with this "too weird to be an accident" anniversary approaching.

This is where I remind myself that the NFL is the most popular game in America, and it isn't always intended for the diehards who know the entire two-deep. A fully healthy Dak coming out and playing in the game where his life turned upside down is good, old fashioned television for everyone – from the most passionate Cowboy fan, to the most casual observer. Everyone who watched that game, regardless of their level of interest, remembers the feeling of watching a devastated Dak Prescott ride that cart to the locker room.

I'm sorry if I sound condescending, it's not my intent. And I certainly understand that I, too, am a member of the media, and I have just as much to gain from Prescott returning to full health as the next reporter.

Still, I can't help but smile when the narrative seems to override the reality of what's actually happening.

Dak Prescott's comeback was complete, in my mind, when I watched him tear ass toward the sideline and uncork a 40-yard throw during a routine scramble drill all the way back in May. Whatever lingering concerns I had about his durability dissipated back on Sept. 9, when I saw him stand in there and throw 58 passes, all while getting decked seven times by a furious Tampa Bay pass rush.

It doesn't make a lick of difference to me that this game is against the New York Giants. There's no revenge to be had, and it's not a milestone any more than the four other games he has already played.

It's the next game. It does happen to fall on a significant anniversary, though. And that's something Prescott said he isn't going to shy away from on Sunday – or any other Sunday of his career.

"That is something I think every pregame and every game how blessed I am just to be back out here doing something that I love," he said. "Whether it's a year from now or five years from now, I am not going to say I won't think about it. That is part of who I am."

Given what he's been through the last 365 days, that's an understandable attitude. I think that speaks for itself far more than any soundbite or answer I could get out of him.

For my part, I get to watch the Cowboys play football on Sunday, and Dak Prescott will be running the show. That's plenty enough for me.

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