Sean Lissemore/Getty Images
IRVING, Tex. - One of the most oft-repeated mantras in the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room this week has been along the lines of “if you can’t find a reason to get up for this game, you shouldn’t be playing.”
“This game,” of course, is the regular-season finale Sunday night on the road against the New York Giants. It’s the kind of game young players grow up dreaming about. The winning team is in the playoffs. The losing team’s season is over.
The game also marks a homecoming for second-year defensive lineman Sean Lissemore, who grew up in Dumont, N.J., just 10-15 minutes away from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
Some Texas high school teams play in playoff games in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, and Lissemore said New Jersey teams get a similar honor, as well.
“But our team was never good enough to play for the state championship, so I never played there” in high school, Lissemore said. “But when I would go down to the shore, we’d drive down the (New Jersey) Turnpike, right past the stadium. I knew I wanted to play in there.”
Admittedly, Lissemore grew up hoping to play for the Giants, not against them. When he was drafted last year by the Cowboys out of William & Mary, he got to play in the stadium for the first time.
This time around, the finality of the game will make the game much bigger. Similarly, his role has increased. In 2010, Lissemore played in just two games before his season ended with a trip to the Injured Reserve list. This season, however, Lissemore has become a key cog in the Dallas defense, having played every position across the defensive line: both defensive end spots, the nose tackle position in the team’s base 3-4 defense and defensive tackle when the Cowboys go with four linemen.
Lissemore declined to speculate how good he might be at one position if he was not asked to learn so many jobs at once.
“I don’t care — I just love playing,” he said. “I’ll do anything they want me to do in order to help the team win.”
Lissemore even joked that if given if asked, he would try to fill the role of the player whose locker is next to his: rookie kicker Dan Bailey.
“Sure, I’d give it a shot,” he said, laughing. “Hey, I kicked a little in high school. But I kicked with my toe, so I don’t think it would go too well.”
Jokes aside, Lissemore said he doesn’t hold a specific grudge against his hometown Giants for not drafting him. After all, every team — including the Cowboys — passed on him several times before he was chosen in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.
“I don’t hold that kind of a grudge, or resentment,” Lissemore said. “I grew up a Giants fan, but as soon as Dallas drafted me, I switched in a hurry.”
Lissemore said he’ll have a lot of family and friends at the game Sunday night, which will be enjoyable for him, but he said he is far more focused on doing what he can to help the defense play better than it did last time the team’s met, when New York beat Dallas Dec. 11 in Cowboys Stadium. In that game, the Dallas defense failed to register a sack against New York quarterback Eli Manning.
“I think that’s a little misleading, because we did get a lot of pressure on (Manning),” Lissemore said. “But they have a great offensive line, and (Manning) is really good at getting rid of the ball very quickly.
“We’re going to get after it Sunday, and hopefully we’ll get some sacks. I don’t know if that’s our No. 1 priority — you always want to stop the run — but we have a saying: ‘You always have got to wreck the decision maker.’ If we can get to Eli, that will help a lot.”