Sullivan: There Is Nothing Like The First, As We'll See On Sunday

There is nothing like the first. And even as we all grow older and forget what we ate for breakfast by lunch, we remember our first kiss. Mine for example couldn't have gone any smoother. The girl asked if I wanted to kiss her and I replied, "Why?"

Lance Romance, I was not.

When we do those security questions for when we forget our passwords, they never ask for the name of your second pet or your second grade teacher. It's always the first. The first is forever engrained within us.

That's because it's new, we've never experienced it before. That new car smell. Opening a present on Christmas morning. That first sports team you obsessed about and can still rattle off the starting lineup all these years later. The first time you drank, and the likely result that followed. Your first bike as a kid. Heck, I still have my first teddy bear.

As of here and now, the 2016 Dallas Cowboys are new. And the first game has yet to be played. Many folks are experiencing that new car smell, kind of nodding their collective heads and saying, yeah, yeah, this could work, control the clock, force a few turnovers, who knows, maybe even develop a pass rush here and there.

The big difference, of course, is that this season is being highlighted by a pair of firsts, the NFL regular-season debuts of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. One was entirely expected, more or less demanded after the Cowboys selected Zeke with the fourth pick of the draft. A running back has been selected higher only once in the last decade.

The other, not so much. The hope was for Prescott to chill behind Tony Romo a few seasons, even behind Kellen Moore this go-around and develop. Yes, develop. That was the only objective for Prescott in 2016. In those first practices out in Oxnard, the field was often empty 20 minutes after Jason Garrett broke the team huddle. Well, except for a game of catch between Garrett and Prescott. They would throw for about 10 minutes and then walk off the field together. This was weeks before Romo's back injury. Not saying that means anything more than a couple of potatoes on an Idaho farm, just found it interesting looking back.

On Sunday, for the first time since 1969, the Cowboys will start a rookie signal-caller and running back. It's also the first time in the entire NFL since Washington did so with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris in 2012. For what it's worth, both of those teams won their divisions, too, although it should be noted that in the case of Dallas, that was the lone start of the season for rookie Roger Staubach. Running back Calvin Hill, the team's first-round pick, did finish second in the league with 942 rushing yards to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Now, there's a ginormous difference between starting a rookie running back and a rookie quarterback. We're talking the difference of spending a night in a monastery as opposed to the Vegas strip.

[embeddedad0]Of the 49 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year winners, 33 have been running backs and only seven have been quarterbacks, although six of those have come since 2004, a list that includes Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Young, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Griffin.

There really is no learning curve for running backs. Here's the ball, do your thing, make the defenders miss. Honestly, the position doesn't change all that much from high school to college to the pros, only the competition does. Hit the holes, make the occasional block against the pass rush, catch a few balls, that's the gig.

That's why many of the great backs peak in their first few seasons. Nine have led the league in rushing as rookies, and just in the last 30 years, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James have posted back-to-back rushing titles in their first two seasons. Roughly half of the top-30 rushing totals in league history have been authored by a back no more than 24 years old. Carrying the ball is a young man's job.

Not so much behind center. There's a whole lot of playbook and verbiage. There are leadership responsibilities. There's learning to read defenses. There's a reason no rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl. That's not one of those coincidences. There have been six second-year QBs to play for a Lombardi Trophy: Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.

Now, we've all seen the numbers about the starting rookie quarterbacks who were drafted after the third round, Kyle Orton, Chris Weinke and some dude named Randy Hedberg. They weren't overly successful. Know what, though? Who cares. It doesn't matter. As a reporter, it's our responsibility to do that research and share the information. Job No. 1 is to inform the reader.

Since that first drive of the preseason, I've been all-in on Prescott. I could care a rat's you-know-what that he was taken in the fourth round. If they redrafted right now, right this very moment, he'd be at the very least a top-5 overall pick. The Cowboys themselves have said they would take him over Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, and there's no reason not to believe them. Heck, I'd take Prescott over any rookie quarterback right now. I think most of us would.

If you're not excited about Sunday afternoon, then it's time to find another interest, another hobby, another mechanism for your free time. This is the first game of the most highly anticipated Cowboys running back since Tony Dorsett in 1977. This is the first game of the most highly anticipated Cowboys quarterback since Troy Aikman in 1989.

There really hasn't been a game like this in recent memory, arguably in franchise history. There is so much unknown, so much promise and hope. Envision the elation if Zeke rushes for 127 yards and two scores and/or if Dak plays anywhere near his preseason level, say 20-of-26, 272 yards, two touchdown tosses, dancing and dodging in the pocket and beyond.

There is nothing like the first. Or finishing first. Especially after finishing last. Maybe that should be the Cowboys motto this season: So the last shall be first.

Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

A look at photos from practice at the Ford Center at The Star on Thursday, September 8.

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