The Banter begins early each Thursday, as soon as the Dallas Cowboys walk into their practice facility in Irving, Texas. It usually spills over into the dining room at lunch, then continues in the hallways as players move along to their 1 p.m. meetings. Gonna kill you today, gonna blow right past you, baby, wide receiver Kevin Williams will say to Cowboys defensive backs. No way, won't happen, we're gonna shut you down, is what cornerback Kevin Smith might reply as the players are getting taped for their 2 p.m. practice, which features the week's main event: the Cowboys' two-minute drill.
Each Thursday afternoon this drill pits Dallas's No. 1 offense against Dallas's No. 1 defense. It's the only time the units go head-to-head. To win, the offense must score or the defense must hold on downs or force a turnover.
Once all non-Cowboys personnel are escorted from the field, a coach sets his watch, and the ball is placed at the 30, 70 yards from pay dirt. There is, for a moment, silence. Then the hitting begins. It's too bad all those folks who believe that injuries, arrests and free-agent losses have taken the fire out of the defending Super Bowl champions can't watch this weekly brawl.
"Those guys on offense want to beat us to death, and, well, we want to do the same to them," says safety Darren Woodson. "This is a team made up of super-competitive players. You see that on Thursdays, and it is why we are, and will be, successful. We have too much pride to just fall down because some things happened to us this summer."
Early in last week's scrimmage, Troy Aikman hooked up with Williams on a long touchdown pass that gave trash-talking rights to the offense for seven glorious days. Then on Sunday, that pair helped the Cowboys to their first win of the season—Aikman threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns, and Williams grabbed six passes for 86 yards and a score—as Dallas drilled the Giants 27-0 at Texas Stadium.
The Cowboys of Week 2 hardly resembled the team that was embarrassed on national television by the Bears 22-6 in the season opener at Soldier Field on Sept. 2. Emmitt Smith, who was carried off the field after landing awkwardly against Chicago and suffering a strained neck and shoulder, withstood the head-hunting Giants and finished with 94 yards and a touchdown reception. Spurred on, perhaps, by headlines in New York newspapers like WOUNDED ACT is A TRICK, Smith shed the cervical collar and hospital gown he wore a day after the Bears game and was dressed and ready for the two-minute drill on Thursday.
Aikman also appeared to be back in sync against the Giants. His first two scores—an eight-yard lob to Deion Sanders and a 19-yard pass to Williams that put Dallas up 14-0 in the first quarter—were perfectly timed. And the mistakes that doomed Dallas against Chicago vanished: The Cowboys had no turnovers and just five penalties.
"This was a tough week for us to fight through because we didn't really know what kind of a team we had," said Aikman, whose second of three TD passes was the 100th of his NFL career. "And maybe we still don't know. But if the defense plays like this every week, it won't matter what we do offensively."
The 0-2 Giants crossed into Dallas territory just once, getting to the 48-yard line, when the Cowboys' scrubs played the fourth quarter. Dallas held New York to 38 yards passing and 93 yards of total offense. "It was good to get that taste out of our mouths from last week," said Dallas defensive tackle Chad Hennings. "But this is a team that has to come out and play every week like it's in the Super Bowl."
Indeed, just as one bad week should not damn the Cowboys, one good week cannot deliver them to New Orleans, either. The problems still exist. The Giants, a team with less fight than Bruce Seldon, were too awful to expose them.