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Sports Then and Now

Ultimate Stakes on Table Again for Giants and Cowboys

Posted on January 01, 2012 by Chris Kent

The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants have experienced this before. Playing each other in New York in the regular season finale with the winner claiming the NFC East Championship. Almost 18 years ago to the day, the two teams played arguably the most significant game in the longtime series between the two bitter division rivals.

On Jan. 2, 1994, the teams met in the old Meadowlands stadium in New York

 in the 1993 regular season finale with the division title on the line. While the stature of that game was a bit bigger than what is on the line tonight in New York when the two teams meet to decide the division title in the regular season finale, tonight’s battle is easily the biggest game between the two teams since that fabled game in 1994. Back then, Dallas was the defending Super Bowl champions with “The Triplets” – Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Emmitt Smith – all of who would later be enshrined in the pro football hall of fame. New York had Giants all time greats in Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor.

Those marquee players are replaced by names today like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, DeMarcus Ware, and Jay Ratliff for the Cowboys. New York offers Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora. All good players, some even great. Overall, a notch below the cast for each team a generation ago and not a sure fire hall of famer among them.

While the stakes are high tonight with a division title and along with it the NFC’s final playoff berth on the line, there was even more at stake 18 years ago, at least for Dallas. A win meant home field advantage, a week off, and the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Both teams also entered the 1994 game at 11-4 while tonight’s game features teams stuck in mediocrity with identical 8-7 records. Still, a huge game is a huge game.

Emmitt Smith, who suffered a separated right shoulder just before halftime

Emmitt Smith sustained a separated right shoulder on this play after being tackled by the Giants' Greg Jackson (47) just before halftime on Jan. 2, 1994.

 in the 1994 game, played through it finishing with 168 yards on 32 carries. Smith also had 61 yards on 10 catches as the Cowboys won 16-13 in overtime following Eddie Murray’s 41-yard field goal. The game is memorable at least in Dallas lore as Smith cemented his legendary status as a warrior who could play with the burden of a significant injury and will his team to victory. To this day it is remembered as one of the top displays of courage and toughness in the history of sports.

Injury is also on the table again for the Cowboys in tonight’s game, this time entering it. Romo has a bruised right throwing hand which he suffered in last week’s 20-7 home loss to Philadelphia. While he has been dealing with swelling in the hand all week, he is scheduled to start Sunday night’s showdown. He will likely be wearing a protective wrap on his hand that leaves his fingers exposed to ensure a sure grip on the ball.

Playing hurt is nothing new to Romo who has displayed his own brand of toughness and courage this season. Next to Smith’s performance with his separated shoulder, Romo arguably comes up next in courageous performances while playing injured in Dallas annals.

Playing with a broken rib and a punctured lung suffered during the first half at San Francisco back in September this season, Romo returned to the game to lead the Cowboys to a 27-24 overtime win over the 49ers. Romo’s 77-yard connection to Jesse Holley in overtime set up a 19-yard field goal by rookie Dan Bailey to clinch it. Romo finished 20-for-33 for 345 yards and two touchdowns while compiling a 116.4 quarterback rating. One of the most clutch performances of his career, all while enduring severe pain that at times tested his ability to call out signals and after the game made it hard to talk during the postgame interview where he needed help to get up and off the podium.

Dallas tight end Jason Witten tries to escape Giants linebacker Michael Boley during the team's first meeting in Dallas back on Dec. 11 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images).

Romo continued to play, starting each and every game this season as trainers nursed his way back to health. It would be about midseason before both the rib and lung were totally healed.

By then Dallas was on a roll, playing its’ best ball of the season. A 34-7 loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 30 was followed by a four-game winning streak that put the Cowboys at 7-4 and in first place in the division. During that same time, the Giants were fading. Following a big 24-20 win at New England, New York was 6-2 at midseason. Four straight losses followed, three coming to 2011 division champions in San Francisco, New Orleans, and Green Bay. That put them at 6-6 heading into the first Dallas game.

Trailing by 12 points with 5:41 to play, the Giants scored 15 straight points to post a come-from behind win which saved their season. It was secured when New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Bailey’s potential game-tying field goal after a successful attempt just seconds earlier was nullified by an icing timeout called by Giants coach Tom Coughlin in the 37-34 win.

Since logging its’ fourth straight win with a 20-19 overtime win over Miami on Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys have gone 1-3, the only win coming at Tampa Bay on Dec. 17. The loss to New York in the first meeting was significant for both teams as it tightened the race for the division title.

The outcome left both teams at 7-6 overall and 2-2 in the division. Each

Brandon Jacobs runs for a touchdown during the first half of the Giants' win in Dallas back in December (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman).

 team had three games to play with both facing two division opponents. However at the time, the Giants had the division lead by virtue of its’ head to head win over Dallas. It looked as if things would still come down to the final regular season game when the two met in New York.

That is exactly what has happened. There is no tomorrow. The winner wins the division and goes to the playoffs. The loser goes home and has a long offseason.

The only question is how will this game stack up to that memorable game from 1994? If history is any indication, it should be a dogfight. All the marbles are on the table and it is for anyone’s taking.

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