All sports fans are incredibly excited about the return of the NFL, but this week is much more important to the players. After an offseason full of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a preseason which included zero exhibition games, members of all 32 NFL teams are excited to finally get back on the field. One star who may be happier about this return to action than any other player is Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. In fact, the three-time Pro Bowler just starred in a commercial alongside his quarterback Dak Prescott that promoted Frito-Lay and the several initiatives they have put together to celebrate the return of the NFL. 

“It was awesome,” Elliott said, during an exclusive interview with CBS Sports. “Dak and I got our first commercial together and it was for Frito-Lay where we were comparing the excitement that children feel the night before Christmas to the excitement that fans and everyone else feels the night before football. It was pretty cool.”

While football fans usually always get excited during this time in the year, this September feels much more different than usual. Between the spread of the coronavirus and the season of change we have experienced when it has come to social and racial injustices, it feels like we need football more than ever. Elliott recognizes this and he wants his play as well as the Cowboys’ to be a source of happiness during what has been a tough time for our nation. 

“Yes, definitely,” Elliott responded when asked if this season felt different. “It’s different just with all the challenges that our country has been having to face dealing with social and racial injustice and combine that with the challenges we have been facing dealing with COVID. It’s definitely a different time in the country right now but we are hoping through football we can bring some joy and some excitement to all the U.S.”

Elliott is confident that the NFL will be able to play through an entire season in a safe manner. Fans don’t necessarily see all that the league is doing behind the scenes to keep players, coaches and their families safe, but Elliott says that they are doing a great job in trying to stop the spread of COVID-19. He knows the challenge that the NFL is up against firsthand, because he tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this offseason. 

“Dealing with COVID was definitely tough more mentally than anything, just having to isolate for three weeks — that’s tough for anyone,” said Elliott. “But I think COVID taught me how to slow things down and made me realize just how good things were and kind of helped put things into perspective.”

Now healthy and motivated, Elliott is ready to embrace the excitement surrounding this Cowboys team in 2020. Dallas was able to sign several big free agents and put together an incredible draft class, but arguably the most important addition the Cowboys made this offseason was hiring head coach Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy compiled a 125-77-2 (.618 win percentage) in 13 years with the Green Bay Packers, winning six NFC North titles and making the playoffs nine times (including in eight consecutive seasons). He also won a Super Bowl, and that experience of having been in the big games before is something that Dallas feels will help immediately. 

“Coach McCarthy has been great,” Elliott said with a smile. “I think the main thing that is great about him is his genuineness. He’s done a great job bringing us together and getting us ready.”

This isn’t the first time that there has been considerable hype surrounding “America’s Team,” however. Just last year, they were expected to finally put it all together and make it back to the Super Bowl, but they fell flat with an 8-8 record and missed the postseason after making it to the divisional round the year previous. So why is this season different, and why should bettors be placing their money on the Cowboys to go all the way? That’s the question I asked Elliott, and he gave me his pitch as to why this team has the fortitude to win the Super Bowl. 

“I think you gotta put your money on the Cowboys this year because we got the talent for sure,” said Elliott. “We have the leadership, we have the camaraderie and I think coach McCarthy is kind of like a breath of fresh air — a kind of reset, and I think we are going to put it all together.  “

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