Giants’ crazy offseason is over and now the real test begins

ARLINGTON, Texas — It’s been a long time since one of our teams has needed to embrace these two words more fervently, with the hope of the true believer, with the frenzied faith of a secular acolyte.

Opening Day.

By 4:25 or so Sunday afternoon, it will have been just 252 days since the Giants took the field together in a game that counted, and it’s hard to believe, looking back, that they have been able to squeeze their entire offseason itinerary into such a small window.

They dealt their chatty superstar receiver. They drafted a quarterback of the future. They have done everything but pave the quarterback of the present’s path with roses and perfume.

The general manager has angered some fans, alienated some others, forced others to wonder if maybe he really does know what he’s doing, and what he’s talking about, even if feels like it would take an immersion course and a stack of Rosetta Stone tapes to fully understand and interpret him.

There is a revamped offensive line. There is a renewed commitment to defense. There is a star receiver, brought in to help everyone forget the old receiver, who will be absent Sunday and for the next three weeks because he ingested something he wasn’t allowed to.

Two-hundred-fifty-two days?

Is that all?

“It’s the first game of the year, and we have to put our best foot forward,” coach Pat Shurmur said earlier in the week. “We have to do everything in our power to beat Dallas. That’s the importance of it. I tell the players all the time: It’s the players, not the plays. So, we have to get the players ready to play and go do it.”

The team they’ll share the field with is the same detested and detestable Dallas team that always seems to show up at critical junctures of Giants’ history, the same team against whom they played that last game, just 252 days ago. That was a rip-roaring, rollicking festival of football fun, four fourth-quarter lead changes and a 36-35 Dallas win that left the 77,750 in attendance dazed and foggy.

Of course, it was also a one-game testament of all that went wrong last year. The game, for both sides, was meaningless: The Cowboys had already clinched the NFC East; the Giants had already been eliminated from the playoffs, and would finish all alone in last place in the division. It was like splicing the final scene of “The Usual Suspects” to the end of “Howard the Duck.” Nothing was going to save the 2018 Giants.

But those Giants are dead. The 2019 Giants went undefeated through the preseason, which along with $2.75 per man will book them passage on every subway line in the city. This season could well be Eli Manning’s last hurrah, and is just as likely to contain Daniel Jones’ first hurrahs. The conversations around the Giants have been endless for weeks, for months.

Sunday, Opening Day, they get to play again. Which is precisely what they needed.

Eli is not alone when he said this week: “I’m just excited — excited about this team, the players we have, about the work we have been able to accomplish these last five weeks. Looking forward to making all that count towards the first regular-season game, in the division, on the road. A great opportunity for us to go out there and play well.”

A better opportunity to change the narrative, at last. Look, even the Giants’ most devoted parishioners have their doubts about this bunch. It’s still the early stages of a full rebuild, helmed by a veteran quarterback, which is not exactly a reliable recipe.

The Giants have been so bad so often early in recent years — the string reads like this: a 1-7 start in ’17; 1-8 in ’16; 2-3 in ’15 (before a 9-2 finish); 3-3 in ’14 (before a 2-7 finish that doomed Tom Coughlin); 0-6 in ’13. That’s a lot of salty Septembers, and more than a couple ugly Octobers stacked on top. That’s no way to live in the NFL, not even in the East, where nobody ever runs away and hides.

The hope — the expectation — is that whatever else the season may hold, a reasonable September — at Dallas, home to Buffalo, at Tampa, home to Washington — should keep them around sea level before things stiffen in October and really get interesting later on.

Sunday, of course, is when it starts, for real, for keeps, for good.

Fortunately. At long last.

“It’s important that we go play hard, we play very fundamental, and we do all of the things you need to do to win games,” Shurmur said.

He’s right about all of that. But the simplest truth is also the most important: It’s time to simply play, period. Opening Day. Let the football do the talking for a change.

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