'One of the great games I've been involved in'

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He stood there outside the Dallas Cowboys locker room like a hyperactive candidate for governor in California.

Monday night had turned into Tuesday morning an hour earlier, but there was Bill Parcells himself shaking hands with tackle Ryan Young, slapping the thigh of linebacker Al Singleton, messing up the matted hair on cornerback Terence Newman's head. And then he hugged the waist of tight end James Whalen and walked through the door, which shut behind him.

In a ludicrous game that, at times, approached surreal, the Cowboys stunned the New York Giants 35-32 in overtime at Giants Stadium. Dallas placekicker Billy Cundiff kicked a 25-yard field goal with 6:03 left in the fifth session -- his NFL-record-tying seventh in eight attempts.

"Well, that was about as wild a one as I've ever been in," said Parcells, who has been in a few wild ones in his 16 NFL seasons as a head coach.

Parcells, 62, who had deflected the mountain of media in the week leading up to his return to Giants Stadium, seemed genuinely emotional. And why not? He got his first win as Dallas coach in a stadium that holds special memories for him.

"I try to downplay everything," he said. "But this is Monday Night Football and it's a division game and it's on the road. I think that was one of the great games I've been involved with."

How come these kinds of things never happened with Dave Campo on the sideline?

"Coming to New York, Mr. (Wellington) Mara came to see me before the game," Parcells began.

And then he listed another dozen former players -- including Ottis Anderson and Mark Bavaro and Jim Burt and Harry Carson -- from his two Giants Super Bowl winners.

"Those are my guys," Parcells said. "They told me they appreciated me and, coming back, that's all I need to know."

Parcells' fragile emotional state was mildly surprising, considering his cool demeanor during the game.

When Dallas safety Tony Dixon unloaded on Jeremy Shockey early in the second quarter, Parcells did not pump his fist and scream the H-word -- although what he said into the privacy of his headset is not known.

When Singleton intercepted Kerry Collins' pass a little later and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, Parcells did not high-five him coming off the field. Even when his defense continued to shred the Giants' offensive line -- which featured three rookie starters -- Parcells paced with professorial precision, back and forth on the sidelines, hands behind his back, clutching his laminated play sheet.

In his fourth incarnation as an NFL head coach, Parcells is sporting a full head of blond hair. Certainly, after Monday night he's having more fun.

Shockey, the Giants' boorish tight end, called Parcells a "homo" during the offseason, but in this anticipated clash of personalities, it was Shockey who seemed more distracted. He was wide open for a touchdown in the third quarter and inexplicably dropped the ball.

Your thoughts, Bill?

"No," the coach said. "I don't have any comment on that. He's a good player, though."

Collins threw seven balls into Shockey's area on Monday night -- two were dropped, two were incomplete, one was intercepted and two were caught. The sixth was, amazingly enough, a 1-yard touchdown and the seventh an 8-yard catch that helped move the Giants into range for what could have been the winning field goal.

Arms folded, a bold blue star on his back, Parcells chatted amiably with the Giants' Jim Fassel on the 50-yard line an hour before kickoff. Kicking the turf and holding their hands out and looking up at the rain, they looked like a couple of suburban neighbors. The funny thing? This is Fassel's seventh season with the Giants. Parcells only coached one more.

Parcells' return to Giants Stadium was largely a made-for-media event. How else do you explain the fact that the Dallas Cowboys were invited to the prime-time event in the first place? Last year, they were 0-for-Monday night and in their last appearance at Giants Stadium, on Dec. 15, they were singed 37-7.

"I know why they put these games on television," Parcells said afterward.

As Parcells himself pointed out in the days leading up to the game, all the players he coached there are long gone. Sure, he won two Super Bowls and 85 games for the Giants before bailing -- not for the last time -- before the 1991 season. He brought the New England Patriots in here for the last game of the 1996 season and beat the Giants 23-22. Three years later, his New York Jets got thumped 41-28. That's the history, for what it's worth.

The history also suggests that Parcells will make a winner of the Cowboys.

The Giants, Patriots and Jets won a combined seven games the year before he took over, and all three made the playoffs in his second season. Parcells took the Patriots to a Super Bowl, and the Jets played for the AFC championship in 1998. This was the kind of resume that prompted Dallas owner Jerry Jones to swallow some of his considerable -- well, pride is not a strong enough word.

After winning three Super Bowls in four seasons, Dallas idled along, making the playoffs three times in the next four years, but never got as far as the NFC title game. The millennium brought three consecutive 5-11 seasons. Rather than be leery of coaching for Jones, Parcells seemed genuinely enthused.

The widespread reports that Jones was locked out of the locker room intentionally last week are bogus; Parcells and Jones have yet to reach a critical mass, and Parcells insists it won't happen.

Not if the Cowboys keep giving him this kind of effort.

When Giants nickel back Ralph Brown stepped inside Joey Galloway, intercepted Quincy Carter's pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown 7:21 into the game, the Cowboys were going south as most expected. But then an odd thing happened. The Giants imploded, and Dallas scored the next 20 points.

Carter scored on an 8-yard run, an almost leisurely stroll through the Giants defense late in the first quarter. Cundiff kicked field goals of 37 and 49 yards before Singleton scored to make it 20-7.

The Giants' overmatched offensive line -- rookies Jeff Roehl, David Diehl and Wayne Lucier started -- contributed to two Giants fumbles and two interceptions in the first half alone. Defensive ends Ebenezer Ekuban and Greg Ellis applied constant pressure, and Collins started to look a little nervous.

There was a moment -- admittedly fleeting -- in the third quarter when the Giants seemed poised to get back in the game. It was 23-14, but the Cowboys oozed down the field and presented Parcells with a difficult decision. It was fourth-and-1 at the Giants' 2-yard line. If ever there was a chance to make it all about him, to make a forceful mark on the game, this was it. But instead of going for it -- as he did numerous times here with a veteran team in the middle to late 1980s -- Parcells went the conservative route, taking the three points and a 12-point margin. Maybe he knew he was 49-0 when his teams carried a 12-point or greater lead into the fourth quarter.


Parcells may be a genius, but he doesn't have the computer resources of the Elias Sports Bureau. Actually, he was protecting a young team. A failed fourth-down effort might have given the Giants enough momentum to mount a comeback. As it turned out, those three points helped keep the Cowboys' margin comfortable -- until the Giants came back in the fourth quarter.

When the Giants scored on a Collins-to-Amani Toomer 20-yard pass, they trailed 29-27 and had no choice but to go for two. On the first attempt, Pete Hunter was called for pass interference. On the second, Roy Williams was flagged for the same offense. On the third, Tiki Barber ran it in from the 1-yard line.

Make that 29-all and, later, 32-all. You know what happened next.

Make that 50-0.

With the sudden demise of the now 0-2 Philadelphia Eagles, some people already were calling the Giants the de facto NFC East power. Based on Monday night, the Giants are still probably the team to beat -- it's just that their margin for error seems less.

The Cowboys' margin for the rest of the season, it has to be said, seems to be something more.

"Obviously, I'm happy to win," Parcells said, meaning it. "Real happy."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.