IRVING, Texas -- There is always a silence inside a losing locker room. Most of the noise comes from the equipment guys packing up pads, uniforms and cleats as they dodge the media surrounding players.
There are few visitor’s locker rooms in the NFL as cramped as the one at Washington's FedEx Field. It is divided into two rooms with the Cowboys offensive and defensive linemen and some linebackers and defensive backs on one side and the offensive players in the next.
As Dec. 30, 2012, nearly turned into New Year’s Eve, the Cowboys’ locker room was more quiet than normal. For the second straight year they lost a winner-take-the-NFC-East-title game, dropping a 28-18 decision to the Washington Redskins.
The emotional pain was evident on the faces of players like Jason Witten, Brandon Carr and a lot of others. But it was the physical pain that sticks out the most a little more than eight months later.
Dez Bryant could not stand without help because of back spasms. He needed help to the shower and get dressed. He sat in a first-class seat normally reserved for the coaches on the flight home. Tony Romo could not carry his bag because of what he thought was a broken rib. DeMarcus Ware had a hard time putting his shirt on because of a shoulder injury that would need reconstructive surgery and an elbow injury. Alex Albright nearly collapsed at his locker, his body locking up because of the pain. Dwayne Harris left on crutches. Cole Beasley was in a protective boot. Miles Austin suffered a sprained ankle and limped to the team bus.
As the Cowboys get ready for the 2013 season opener against the New York Giants on Sunday at AT&T Stadium, this is what they carry as a memory as they attempt to break a three-year playoff drought and a two-year run of 8-8 finishes.
“That feeling we had that last game last year, I can feel it in the locker room that there’s a lot of guys that don’t want that feeling anymore,” second-year cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “I feel like our leadership definitely changed since last year. Guys are really stepping up, being vocal and also doing it on the practice field.”
Hope abounds inside the Cowboys' locker room now the way it does across the NFL. Claiborne said he feels “something special about this team.” Romo has made similar claims. So has Ware. Even the players new to the team feel it.
“It seems like there is certainly a buzz around here, a certain level of excitement and a certain level of expectation,” rookie center Travis Frederick said. “It feels the same way it felt for me at Wisconsin. There was always an expectation to win. You never were the underdog. It was always your job to go out and win. I feel that same level of expectation here. Everyone expects to go out and be contenders and go out and play well so hopefully we can put ourselves in good position to win a game.”
The Cowboys started preparing for the New York Giants while they were in Oxnard, Calif. They have looked at them more since they returned home. But today starts the three most important days of preparation.
“We’re not the only team working hard,” running back DeMarco Murray said. “We’re not the only team coming in Mondays full pads. We’re not the only team doing that. We’ve got to separate ourselves come Sunday about execution and about finishing and those two things are what are going to get us over the hump.”
If they don’t, then they know how they will feel when the season ends.