It has been a long time since the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins rivalry really mattered. Over the past 15 years or so, the NFC East has been dominated by the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.
But things change.
Andy Reid, in my estimation the best coach in Eagles’ history, is on his way out of Philly. In New York, Tom Coughlin’s two-time Super Bowl winning team is limping along, losing must-win games in late December.
Meanwhile, in DC, the RGIII bandwagon is loaded and rolling. The Redskins are riding a six-game winning streak into today’s matchup with their hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys are writing their own special version of the 2012 NFL season. Missing as many as seven starters on defense at various times this season and riding into DC with guys on the team whose names no one knows (not even some of their teammates), this year’s version of the Cowboys is replacing the country club image with that of a battle-hardened, injury-riddled, tenacious, rag-tag bunch of gritty warriors.
And so the stage is set for the revival of one of the NFL’s most storied rivalries.
In case you are still wet behind your football ears and weren’t around to see the heroic battles between teams led by NFL legends Tom Landry and George Allen, let me remind you that between the Cowboys and Redskins, there have been 27 division titles and eight Super Bowls. The rivalry has included famed units like The Redskins’ “Over-the-Hill Gang” and “the Hogs,” and the Cowboys’ “DoomsDay Defense” and “the Triplets.” Besides Landry and Allen, these teams have been led by the likes of Jimmy Johnson and Joe Gibbs.
How the NFL Came to Dallas
Clint Murchison wanted to bring an NFL team to Dallas, but was having difficulty doing so. Here is how it all went down:
Texas oil tycoon Clint Murchison, Jr. was having a hard time bringing an National Football League team to Dallas, Texas. He tried buying 2 teams, but the negotiations fell through. In 1958, Murchison heard that George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins, was eager to sell the team. Just as the sale was about to be finalized, Marshall called for a change in terms. Murchison was outraged and canceled the whole deal.
Around this time, Marshall had a falling out with the Redskin band director, Barnee Breeskin. Breeskin had written the music to theRedskins fight song, now a staple at the stadium; additionally, Marshall’s wife penned the lyrics to the song. Breeskin wanted revenge after the failed negotiations with Marshall. He approached Tom Webb, Murchison’s lawyer, and sold the rights for $2,500.
Murchison then decided to create his own team, with the support of NFL expansion committee chairman, George Halas. Halas decided to put the proposition of a Dallas franchise before the NFL owners, which needed to have unanimous approval in order to pass. The only owner against the proposal was George Preston Marshall. However, Marshall found out that Murchison owned the rights to Washington’s fight song, so a deal was finally struck. If Marshall showed his approval of the Dallas franchise, Murchison would return the song. The Cowboys were then founded and began playing in 1960.
To build the roster of an expansion team, Dallas was allowed to pick certain players from certain teams per League rules. Murchison selected the Redskins’ Pro Bowl quarterback, Eddie LeBaron, who would become the Cowboys’ first starting quarterback. Somehow, Marshall had forgotten to move LeBaron to the team’s “protected” list.
How the Legend Grew
The Cowboys–Redskins rivalry is replete with heroic comebacks, sparked by the likeliest and unlikeliest of heroes, often before a national audience.
The first great come-from-behind victory between these two took place on November 28, 1965, when Redskins’ quarterback Sonny Jergenson led his team back from a 21–0 deficit to defeat the rival Cowboys 34−31. It almost happened again the following November. Cowboys legends Don Meredith and Bob Hayes helped the Cowboys jump out to a 21–7. This time, however, The Cowboys managed to fight off a furious comeback bid and hold on to win the game 31–30.
One of my personal favorite memories as a Cowboys fan is the 1974 Thanksgiving Day game. Perhaps the greatest Cowboy of them all, Roger Staubach, was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. Rookie quarterback Clint Longley came into the game and wrote his name into Cowboys lore by leading the Cowboys to a last-minute come-from-behind victory. The Redskins had the game in hand when Staubach went down, leading 16–3. By the time Longley was done, the Cowboys were 24–23 victors and Longley had a new nickname: The Mad Bomber.
How the Stage is Set for the Next Chapter
The Redskins were 3–6 at one point this season. Head Coach Mike Shanahan made news and stirred controversy by saying the rest of the season would be about evaluating his team. Since that statement was made, his team has not lost a game. Six straight wins has put them in the catbird’s seat. One more win will secure the NFC East title for the team most people picked to finish dead last in the division.
Meanwhile, Jason Garrett has rallied his team amid the worst plague of injuries the team has ever suffered. His team was 3–5 to start the season. They are 5–2 since. This while dealing with the death of one teammate and the indictment of another.
Shanahan is a proven NFL commodity. He coached the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles. He is known for developing a blocking scheme that can make the most ordinary running back into a prolific NFL rusher. He has skins on the wall. And this may be his finest hour as a coach.
That 42-31 win, when third-stringer Garrett outdueled a young gunslinger named Brett Favre, ranks up there with the miraculous, mad-bombing, Clint Longley-led comeback against the Washington Redskins in 1974 as the Cowboys’ most memorable Thanksgiving games.
The legacy of Garrett the coach is still under construction. Some, myself included, believe he has all the tools to be great. He is unflappable in the face of adversity. He is an excellent communicator. He is a good football man. And he is proving this year that he is the leader many accused him of not being.
Shanahan, the grizzled veteran versus Garrett, the red-topped kid.
Romo, the lightning rod of the NFL, versus Robert Griffin III, the Heisman wunderkind.
I tell you, my children, this is not the end of humanity. The Mayans be damned.
This is revival.
This is renewal.
This…is a reckoning.
This is Cowboys–Redskins, the most colorful rivalry of them all.