‘Just as good as the dream:’ Cooper Rush waited a long time for his magic moment with Cowboys

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As a backup quarterback for four seasons, Cooper Rush had gone through the motions more times than he could count. Except, he actually had counted.

“I’ve counted the games where I’ve dressed and prepared and didn’t get in,” Rush told reporters after Sunday night’s 20-16 Dallas win. “It was up around 50, I think. You just knew it was coming; had to be patient. I think all that preparation, being in it still- even though you haven’t started- really helped, came through tonight, making plays and stuff like that.”

Making plays and stuff like that.

Rush did plenty of “stuff like that” at U.S. Bank Stadium, throwing for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns- including the game-winner with under a minute to play- on the road in a challenging environment and in front of a primetime audience.

The Central Michigan product made his first start as a late-replacement for Dak Prescott, but it was practically Rush’s first everything. Despite a career stat line of just 1-of-3 for 2 yards coming into the Week 8 tilt, the 27-year-old looked like anything but a wide-eyed newbie as he led the 6-1 Cowboys against a stout Minnesota defense.

“I felt like I belonged out there,” Rush said. “You’re in the huddle, breaking huddle, getting to the line, going through your processes, it didn’t feel overwhelming at all. I haven’t played a lot, but being around the NFL, you’re practicing everyday against those guys- and our defense is pretty good; real good players- you’re going against those guys every day. It’s not like you’re not seeing things. So it never felt too big in terms of speed. I felt, like, in command. Playing with those guys I get to play with out there, just go down the list: O-line, running back, receiver. It makes my job a lot easier.”

It wasn’t easy, to be sure. Rush struggled at times with accuracy, and he threw two interceptions. As a team, the Cowboys found themselves trailing or tied for the first 59 minutes of regulation. But through it all, Rush never seemed shaken, said the man he was filling in for.

“I don’t think there was ever a moment, necessarily, I felt like he was too high or nervous or rattled,” said Prescott, who was ruled inactive just before kickoff in order to give his strained calf more time to heal. “That’s Coop. He’s very mild tempered and just always that way – never too high, never too low. It showed tonight; just allowed him to be able to stay in there, stick to it, stick through some bad plays and come out and make some great plays to win the game that we needed down there in the fourth quarter.”

“It was obviously special,” Rush said of Prescott’s encouragement and support, especially late in the game. “We’ve been together for a long time. A lot of games where it was the other way around: he’s making plays at the end, and I get to watch those. It was fun for me to get a chance to go do it and have his full support.”

The Cowboys’ final drive indeed proved to be Rush’s Cinderella moment. The former Chippewa went to wideout Amari Cooper three times on the eight-play series for 56 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown in the back corner of the end zone.

“Coop has an arm,” Cooper the receiver said of Cooper the quarterback after the game. “The thing about Coop, he’s going to give you a chance. He’s always going to give you a chance. That’s why I was rushing back in on when I knew we were, like, five yards away from the end zone. I figured we would be throwing some type of fade. So I was rushing back in there, because I know the thing about Coop, he’s going to throw it.”

Cooper admitted that he doesn’t normally get many practice reps with Rush.

“Not a lot,” he laughed. “Not a lot at all.”

It sure didn’t look like there was any unfamiliarity between the two. The Cooper-to-Cooper combo connected eight times on the night for 122 yards, the wideout’s highest yardage total since Week 4 last season.

That very same day in October 2020, Rush was literally watching games on his couch, having just been released by the Giants. After three seasons in Dallas, Rush had been let go with the signing of Andy Dalton. He spent the first three weeks of the season on the New York practice squad before being cut.

He was re-signed to the Cowboys practice squad as a insurance policy for Prescott on Halloween of 2020. And exactly one year later, he’d make his first start for Dallas against the Vikings.

But the fairy tale has a happy ending because it ended with a real-life game-winning touchdown tossed by the guy who’d only ever imagined it a million times.

“A lot of mental reps,” Rush recounted. “They always talk about mental reps, and they came through. We’re doing it in preseason, we’re doing it in camps, and those come through. You watch a lot of ball; I think that helped a lot… been in a league a little bit, around it. To get to go out there with that group… Trust in those guys, run the system, play within the system, trust [offensive coordinator] Kellen [Moore], and it usually works out.”

Rush’s storybook night may not get a sequel. But even if Prescott’s calf allows him to resume his spot on the field and relegates Rush back to the headset, the backup will never again have to dress out for a game and merely wonder if he’d have the stuff to go in and win one.

“It’s just as good as the dream. It’s pretty awesome to be able to share that with everyone and be able to win like that.”

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