“To enjoy it, you’ve got to win it.”
That’s what it boils down to for Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, he said, when he makes his much-anticipated Texas homecoming and meets the Dallas Cowboys at ATT Stadium on “Monday Night Football.”
There has been a ton of hoopla and hype surrounding Murray and his return to the Lone Star State, and rightfully so. As one of the most accomplished high school players in the state’s storied history, Murray is back after completely dominating the Texas prep scene, doing most of his damage less than 50 miles away from ATT Stadium at Allen High School.
At Allen, Murray helped christen the opening of an 18,000-seat stadium and led the Eagles to a 53-0 record and three consecutive state championships. All three of those title games were played at ATT Stadium, where Murray is 7-0, including 6-0 as a starter.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Murray is “probably in the top 10 of any talented player that has played in that stadium.” In the 12-year history of “Jerry World,” only two other quarterbacks have more wins there than Murray — Tony Romo (25) and Dak Prescott (24) of the Cowboys.
“That’s impressive. We would love to support him in helping him get the mark up a little higher,” Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I was talking to him (Thursday) and I was asking him, ‘Has any player in the NFL ever won a game in the same building in high school, college and professionally,’ and we were rattling off names, but I couldn’t think of anybody and he couldn’t, either.
“So how cool would that be, to go back home and do something like that?”
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Murray said coach Kliff Kingsbury, a former Texas prep quarterback sensation himself who also spent 11 years coaching college ball at Houston, Texas AM and Texas Tech, is “probably more anxious than me.” That doesn’t mean it won’t be special for Murray, though.
“It means a lot,” he said of returning to ATT Stadium. “There’s been a lot of memories, a lot of great memories. Obviously, playing back home in Texas in front of friends and family, but even it being on Monday night with COVID happening, everybody will be able to watch. It’s a big deal. Just to be able to play on Monday night. Not everybody gets that opportunity. It’s a huge honor and it’s a big opportunity for us to make the next step.
“Obviously, I have to stay composed, play my game, play our game, and execute at a high level in order to win.”
In the eyes of Louis Riddick, ESPN analyst and former NFL safety and front-office executive, Murray doesn’t only have to win this game, but he must dominate it. After carving up the Jets last week with a career-high 380 passing yards, Murray needs to destroy a Dallas defense that is allowing a league-high 36 points per game, Riddick suggests, or skeptics will be picking apart his game for the rest of the year.
“Even though everybody knows that Dallas’ defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed right now, he needs to torch this defense,” Riddick, who will be calling the game for ESPN alongside fellow analyst Brian Griese, told The Republic. “If he struggles against it, then people are going to go, ‘OK, what’s going on here.’ But if you want to be talked about like Russ (Wilson) and Aaron (Rodgers) and Ben (Roethlisberger) and any of the other good quarterbacks, you need to play great in a big moment.”
During a separate phone interview with The Republic, Griese rejected that notion.
“I don’t agree with it. I don’t necessarily agree that a guy needs to light it up to prove anything,” Griese said. “I understand you’re going against a defense that’s been exposed. I get that. But look, I played the position. I don’t look at one game as a referendum on a quarterback. I look at a larger body of work.”
The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and NFC Offensive Player of the Week, Murray knows he’s going to be under intense scrutiny on the national stage. The moment has never been too big for him, however, whether it was going undefeated at Allen High en route to winning National Player of the Year honors from Gatorade, Parade and USA TODAY, or smashing records in his one season as a starter at Oklahoma when he won the Heisman Trophy.
“This is what he’s worked hard for his entire life, to have moments like this, and I know he’s excited to go out there and try to put his best foot forward,” Kingsbury said.
The son of a standout quarterback and now, high school coach, Murray became accustomed to the bright lights at an early age. He was drawing huge, curious crowds at his Pee Wee games in the Dallas area. By his freshman year at Allen, he was already being recruited by multiple college coaches, including Kingsbury.