IRVING -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware gave a hint of his anticipation for Wednesday's season opener against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants at last week's kickoff luncheon.
He was shaking so much after accepting the 2011 team defensive Most Valuable Player award that he couldn't get his words out.
Now a day before the game, Ware said "ready" is not a strong enough word to describe how he and the Cowboys feel.
But here's a hint: Don't confuse it with a giddy excitement akin to the first day of school. Rather, it's more of a palpable burning desire of pent-up emotion and frustration hung over from last season because of four losses in the last five games. Two came against the Giants, the second a 31-14 beatdown in a winner-take-all battle in New York for the NFC East title and a playoff spot in the regular-season finale.
The Cowboys finished 8-8 and the Giants won the division and then went on to win the Super Bowl.
"I've been ready for this for a long time," said Ware of the Cowboys' return to MetLife Stadium on Wednesday. "I have been ready since the last game of last season, since OTAs and minicamp and training camp. The hamstring injury (which kept him out of the last three weeks of the preseason) doesn't mean anything.
"Ready is not the right word. That word is small compared to how much our team is looking forward to getting this thing. When you think about how last season ended, you want to come out and make a statement. This is a great stage to do it."
The Giants not only swept the Cowboys last season, but also have owned the series of late with seven wins in the past nine meetings.
Ware promises to do his job by setting the tone with his play in his first matchup against Giants quarterback Eli Manning since they taped an NFL's Back to Football commercial together at MetLife Stadium.
He didn't guarantee five sacks as the lady asked in the commercial, but he said the Cowboys will be in Manning's face all night.
"One thing we can promise is to get pressure on him," Ware said. "We have to get pressure on him. We just can't let him sit back there."
Ware always has gotten pressure on Manning. His 10.5 sacks are his most against any quarterback, something his television buddy knows well.
"He's gotten to me a number of times," Manning said. "He's probably played against me more than any other quarterback, too, so that leads to that. But he is a driven player. You've got to have answers for him. He's a guy who can take over a game, and he can change a game by his performances."
Ware nor any other Cowboys rusher came close to Manning in the 36-34 loss to the Giants at Cowboys Stadium last December when Dallas blew a 12-point lead by allowing two touchdowns in the final three minutes.
It was one of five games which the Cowboys lost after leading in the fourth quarter, including an NFL-record three leads of at least 12 points.
Ware said the team's focus has been on finishing (games) the entire off-season. He plans to be the Michael Jordan of the Cowboys in 2012 with big plays to close out games.
"Who is going to be No. 23?" Ware said. "Who is going to be Jordan? Who is going to be Larry Bird and all those guys who close the game out? We have to have that type of mentality. I have to be that guy. You have to put pressure on yourself to be that guy."
Ware has been that guy for the Cowboys.
Of his 99.5 sacks since 2005 -- the most in the league during that time span -- 26 have come in the fourth quarter. He also has 36 sacks on third down, his highest total on any down.
So the criticism of him not getting enough sacks in crucial situations are off base and "foolish," according to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
The key for the Cowboys is getting pressure from other areas to help complement Ware's production. That's where Ryan is counting on improved sack numbers from linebackers Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee and defensive end Jason Hatcher.
"He is the best pass rusher in the NFL," Ryan said of Ware. "The guy is phenomenal, the best I've ever been around, that's for sure. He has taken his game to a different level. He has done more film work. He broke every record in the weight room. So unfortunately for the rest of the league, he is getting better rather than being in decline."
Ware has made six consecutive Pro Bowls and won two NFL sacks titles.
"I'm trying to get better every year," Ware said. "You can put up numbers. But how many big plays can you make? How many forced fumbles can you get? Why not set the stage where you are not just getting sacks, but make plays to get the ball back to the offense. You can always get better at that."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.