When it comes to rivalries, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys are near the top of the list in any sport and at any level. The two NFC East Division combatants have been playing each other since 1960 and have met twice each regular season since the fall of 1961. Over the last five and a half decades, their games have produced many elite players and dramatic finishes. While most of the historical moments in the series occurred during a 20-year period between 1965 and 1985, the two teams have always been a thorn in each other’s side. The matchup has always brought out the best in the two teams regardless of their records and regardless of whether or not they are in the playoff race.
With no one taking control of the NFC East this season, neither team is a sure bet for the playoffs. At 5-6, the Redskins head into tonight’s meeting on Monday Night Football in first place in the division. A win gives Washington sole possession of first place in the NFC East at 6-6 and puts them three games up on the Cowboys. On the other side, a loss drops them to 5-7 and would mean Dallas – with the win – is just one game behind at 4-8. More importantly, a Cowboys’ win would make them 3-2 in the division helping their cause in tiebreakers used to determine the division championship. In a season where the NFC East has been more like the NFC “Least”, Dallas and the Redskins are in a prime spot to again bring out the best in each other even though they both have losing records and are battling to stay in the playoff race. Yet, the history of this great rivalry says that the two teams have always been competitive against each other regardless of circumstances.
Such was the case back in 1989 when the Cowboys lone win in a 1-15 season was a 13-3 win in Washington. When a veteran Dallas team won its’ third Super Bowl in a span of four seasons following the 1995 season, the Redskins swept the Cowboys that year but finished 6-10 with no playoff berth. More recently in 2014, Washington ended Dallas’ six-game winning streak with a 20-17 win in overtime in the Cowboys’ plush AT&T Stadium on Monday Night Football. The Redskins finished last in the NFC East in 2014 at 4-12 and were 3-13 in 2013. What this shows is that when things are going good for one team, the other time can be ripe to pull off the upset.
Tonight will be no different. Add in the fact that both teams are still alive for the division title and can be a factor in the playoff race and there is something on the table to play for despite them both coming into this game with losing records.
However, that is not how it used to be. For much of their history, the Cowboys and the Redskins were at or near the top. They played a lot of memorable games against each other and featured some of the great coaches and players the game has ever seen. The inaugural game of the series was played on Oct. 9, 1960 and won by Washington 26-14. The first four games resulted in a pair of Redskins’ victories and two ties before Dallas posted its’ first win in the series on Nov. 10, 1962 with a 38-10 win in Washington at D.C. Stadium.
For five straight seasons from 1963 through 1967, the two teams split their two games each season. Those were some of the earlyyears when the Redskins’ Sonny Jurgensen and the Cowboys’ Don Meredith led the teams at quarterback and legendary coach Tom Landry was on the Dallas sideline, where he remained for 29 years. Seven of the 10 games over these five years were decided by seven points or less and this is where the rivalry was forged. Many of these games were marked by back-and-forth play in which the lead changed hands several times or one side overcame deficits of multiple scores. This made for entertaining and thrilling play with some dramatic finishes in the clutch. These types of games helped to build the rivalry because this is what a good rivalry is built on.
The second meeting in 1965 resulted in a Washington come-from-behind win. The Cowboys opened a 21-0 lead only to see the Redskins climb back into it on Nov. 28 at D.C. Stadium.
Washington took its’ first lead of the game at 34-31 when Jurgensen threw a touchdown pass to tight end Angelo Coia with about one minute left to play. Don Meredith then lead Dallas back down the field before kicker Danny Villanueva’s field goal attempt with seven seconds left was blocked by Redskin’s defensive back Lonnie Sanders, preserving Washington’s 34-31 win.
The two teams played a couple of classics in 1966. In the first game on Nov. 13 in the capitol district, Meredith gave the Cowboys a 21-7 lead with 52 and 95-yard touchdown passes to Bob Hayes, the former Olympic gold medalist and Pro Football Hall of Famer. After the Redskins rallied to take a 23-21 lead, Meredith led Dallas down the field and scored on a one-yard touchdown run by Dan Reeves to regain the lead, 28-23. Jurgensen responded with an 18-yard scoring pass to Charley Taylor for a 30-28 Washington lead. Meredith then got the ball back and with no timeouts left guided the Cowboys down the field. A late hit by the Redskins on Meredith as he was running out of bounds on a play advanced the ball to the Washington 12-yard line. Villanueva connected on a field goal for a 31-30 Dallas win.
The rematch in 1966 was a classic that saw the teams exchange leads multiple times in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Dec. 11. Redskins’ linebacker John Reger recovered a blocked punt and ran it in for a touchdown to give Washington a 10-7 halftime lead. A Villanueva field goal and a 23-yard touchdown catch by Hayes put the Cowboys up 17-10. The Redskins forced a 17-17 tie on Bobby Mitchell’s 11-yard scoring reception from Jurgensen.
Dallas regained a 24-17 lead on a 67-yard touchdown run by Reeves before Washington answered with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Smith to force a 24-24 tie. The Cowboys went ahead 31-24 on a six-yard touchdown run by Dallas’ Ring of Honor member Don Perkins before the Redskins responded with Jurgensen and Taylor connecting on a 65-yard touchdown pass. Taylor caught the scoring pass between two defenders which made it 31-31. Following a defensive stand, Washington got the ball back and mounted a drive. A 30-yard run by A.D. Whitfield set up Charlie Gogolak’s winning field goal as the Redskins won 34-31.
The close games continued in 1967 as the team’s exchanged road wins. On Oct. 8 in Washington, the Cowboys trailed 14-10 with 70 seconds left to play in the fourth quarter. Facing fourth down with 23 seconds remaining, Meredith found Reeves who beat out linebacker Chris Hanburger to score the winning touchdown and give Dallas a 17-14 lead. Seven seconds remained after the kickoff giving the Redskins time for one play. Jurgensen connected with Taylor on a long pass but Taylor was tackled at the Cowboys’ 20-yard line as time expired leaving Dallas victorious, 17-14.
Washington won the rematch that season in Dallas with a 27-20 victory on Nov. 19 at the Cotton Bowl.
The rivalry that was born in the mid 1960’s would further develop in the 1970’s behind new players and a new head coach. George Allen became head coach of the Redskins in 1971 and coached them for seven seasons through 1977. He was known for working long 16-plus hour days and preferred veteran players over rookies. This was so evident in him that his early Washington teams became known as the “Over the Hill Gang” due to the predominance of players on the team over age 30. Allen is also credited with sparking the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. Allen was 7-8 against the Cowboys in his career. He and Landry would have some fierce coaching battles and the rivalry produced some memorable moments during the 70’s.
The rivals met in the postseason for the first time ever on Dec. 31, 1972 in the NFC Championship game. Washington won 26-3 to advance to the Super Bowl where they lost 14-7 to the Miami Dolphins, still the only undefeated champion in the history of the Super Bowl. Redskins’ quarterback Billy Kilmer got the better of Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach that day.
The 1974 Thanksgiving Day game on Nov. 28 matched the two rivals in front of a national television audience. Entering the game, Washington was 8-3 and held a two-game lead over the 6-5 Cowboys. With the Redskins leading 16-3 in the third quarter, Staubach was knocked out of the game by Washington linebacker Dave Robinson. Little known backup quarterback Clint Longley, a rookie, threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds left to play to give Dallas a 24-23 victory.
Perhaps the most dramatic finish between the two rivals in the history of the series came in 1979. On Dec. 16, the two met at Texas Stadium in Irving, TX in the regular season finale for both teams. The winner would be the NFC East Division Champion while the loser would miss the playoffs. This was a classic in the truest sense of the word.
The Cowboys trailed 17-0 before scoring three unanswered touchdowns to take a 21-17 lead. Back came the Redskins with 17 unanswered points. Running back John Riggins had one and 66-yard touchdown runs during that surge to put the Redskins up by 13 points, 34-21. However Dallas was not done. Known for his ability to lead the Cowboys from behind, Staubach engineered two dramatic touchdown drives in the final five minutes. His game-winner came on an eight-yard touchdown pass to Tony Hill with less than one minute remaining giving Dallas a 35-34 win.
As the 1980’s came, the two teams would remain closely competitive. While names like Staubach, Allen, Kilmer, and Jurgensen were not around anymore, new figures emerged that kept the rivalry going. Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, Riggins, and wide receivers Art Monk, Alvin Garrett, and Charlie Brown – who made up the “Fun Bunch” – were offensive stars along with head coach Joe Gibbs. Others like defensive end Dexter Manley, cornerback Darrell Green, and “The Hogs” – offensive lineman like Jeff Bostic, Russ Grimm, and Joe Jacoby – were mainstays for the Redskins. The Cowboys had dominant faces too like quarterback Danny White, running back Tony Dorsett, Hill, wide receiver Drew Pearson, and tight end Doug Cosbie on offense. On defense, defensive tackle Randy White, defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones, linebackers Bob Breuing and Mike Hegman, and a strong secondary with defensive backs Everson Walls, Ron Fellows, Dextor Clinkscale, and Dennis Thurman stood out in Texas. In the early and mid 1980’s Dallas and Washington met routinely with each team in the thick of the division race and playoff chase. This fueled the rivalry and often times Cowboys’ defensive backs like Walls, Fellows, and Thurman would be seen trying to break up the end zone celebrations of the Redskins’ “Fun Bunch” when one of Washington’s receivers scored a touchdown. This off course was during the days when there were no penalties or fines for celebratory acts by players following a score.
Three games stood out in the 1980’s in this matchup. The first one was on Jan. 22, 1983 when the two met for the NFC Championship at RFK Stadium. The Redskins won 31-17 and would go on to beat Miami 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII, claiming their first Super Bowl Championship. This game is best remembered for its aggressive play as a hard hit by Manley on Danny White sent the quarterback to the locker room before halftime and knocked him out of the game. Riggins ran for 140 yards and scored two touchdowns to power Washington on the ground.
The following season, Dallas got revenge. On Sept. 5, 1983, the Cowboys opened the season at RFK Stadium and before a sold-out crowd overcame a 20-point halftime deficit to win 31-30. Trailing 23-3 at the half, Dallas rallied as Danny White threw three second half touchdown passes and ran for a fourth in leading the Cowboys all the way back to the victory.
When the two met for the second time in 1983 there was a moment where disgust was revealed in this heated rivalry. The surprise is that it came from Landry, who was always known more for his stoic appearance as well as his calm and strategic approach to coaching. Facing fourth-and-one, White was using hard counts to try and draw the Redskins offsides and thus get a first down by penalty to keep their drive going. However the Washington players never moved and White ended up running a play that resulted in a loss of yards which turned the ball back over to the Redskins on downs. During the replay, Landry was seen yelling to White from the sidelines, “No Danny, No.” Landry undoubtedly wanted White to call a timeout so they could of punted the ball away instead of turning it over. It was one of the few times if not the only time that people could recall seeing Landry in disgust.
By the time the 1990’s hit, a new era was forming in the rivalry. Washington had been a better team than Dallas between 1987 and 1991, winning Super Bowls following the 1987 and 1991 seasons. Meanwhile, the Cowboys had been in decline and hit rock bottom in 1989 with a dismal 1-15 season. Yet, their one win that season came at the Redskins. The names were changing. Dallas was starting a new regime under the management of new owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jimmy Johnson, whom he hired away from the University of Miami (Fla.). The two were college roommates at Arkansas and would build a dynasty with the Cowboys in the 1990’s.
Meanwhile Washington was in decline. They went through some different coaches but fell on hard times, partly due to questionable drafting. But as previously stated, the rivalry still existed, just not in a fashion where both teams were at or near the top of the division and/or the league as in prior decades.
The rivalry did not impact division standings or the playoff race much in the 1990’s as Dallas seemed to be in competition more with the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles for that. However one game was of particular note in the 1990’s. It came on opening day in 1999. A play-action pass by Troy Aikman four minutes into overtime resulted in a touchdown pass to Raghib Ismail and lifted the Cowboys to a 41-35 victory on Sept. 12 at the Redskins.
After falling behind 35-14, Dallas scored three touchdowns in the final 11 minutes of regulation to tie it 35-35 before winning in overtime. The defense stepped up by holding Washington to 2-for-10 on third down conversions while the famed “triplets” played big for the Cowboys. Aikman was 28-for-49 for 362 yards and threw a career high five touchdown passes. Emmitt Smith ran 23 times for 109 yards and scored one touchdown while Michael Irvin had five catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
In the 2000’s Dallas and the Redskins went back-and-forth amidst a lot of mediocrity. There were still some close margins of victory but there was not much on the line when the two met. One game that stands out is a 2005 week two encounter on Sept. 19 which was a Monday Night Football game. The Cowboys led 13-0 with four minutes left to play. Washington quarterback Mark Brunell then rallied the Redskins, throwing two long touchdown passes to Santana Moss to win the game. While Washington finished second in the division that year at 10-6 and won a wild card playoff game before losing in the divisional round, Dallas did not make the playoffs, finishing third in the division at 9-7. Further proof that when one of these rivals makes the playoffs and the other one does not, they still bring out the best in each other.
Halfway through this current decade, the rivals have had a few games that have been exciting during the season or impacted their playoff implications. Back in 2010, the Cowboys opened the season at the Redskins on NBC Sunday Night Football and lost 13-7. However the game came down to the final play. On third-and-10 with three seconds left to play in regulation, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo connected with Roy Willliams on a 13-yard pass into the end zone. However the play was negated due to an offensive holding call on Cowboys’ offensive lineman Alex Barron enabling Washington to escape with the win.
A year later in 2011, Dallas rallied to overcome late deficits in sweeping the season series from their arch rivals. In a Monday Night Football game on Sept. 26, Romo put together a late drive to lead the Cowboys to a decisive field goal by kicker Dan Bailey for the final 18-16 victory. It was one of six field goals by Bailey on the night which accounted for all of Dallas’ scoring.
Romo and Bailey came up big again in the second meeting in 2011 on Nov. 20 in a thrilling game. A four-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman to Donte’ Stallworth tied the game at 24 with 14 seconds left to play and forced overtime. The Redskins got the first possession in overtime which resulted in a missed 52-yard field goal attempt. The Cowboys took over and Romo guided them on a 7-play 37-yard drive that ended with Bailey’s 39-yard field goal for the 27-24 overtime win.
The two teams had something to play for in 2012 as the division championship was up for grabs when the two teams met at FedEx Field in the final regular season game of the season on NBC’s Sunday Night Football on Dec. 30, 2012. The game was closely contested throughout with the teams playing to a 7-7 tie at the half. A Romo touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree and a successful two-point conversion to Dwayne Harris pulled Dallas within 21-18 with 5:55 left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys would force Washington to punt on the ensuing possession and got the ball back with 3:33 left to play. Two plays later, Romo threw an errant pass out to his left side that was intended for running back DeMarco Murray. However it was intercepted by the Redskins’ Rob Jackson. Washington took over and six-plays later put the game away with a touchdown to win 28-18 and clinch the division
championship and with it a playoff berth.
The following year, pure will was on display from Romo. Facing the Redskins in the second to last game of the regular season on Dec. 22, 2013 in Washington, Dallas needed to win to set up a winner-take-all showdown for the division title with the Philadelphia Eagles the following weekend in the regular season finale. Limping and in obvious pain on the final drive due to a back injury, Romo played through the pain. Trailing 23-17, Romo completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Murray who caught the ball in the front corner of the end zone over the pylon and broke the plane of the goal line. Both Murray and Redskins’ defensive back Brandon Meriweather were called for personal fouls on the play. However, it was ruled that they offset and thus the touchdown stood. Bailey’s PAT provided the winning point in the 24-23 Cowboys’ victory.
Recent years and games point toward this rivalry becoming relevant again and meaning something. While both teams will need to build themselves up a little more over the next year or two by adding some missing pieces here and there, they are showing signs of becoming consistently good again. Tonight’s game should provide a glimpse of that as both teams are fighting for their playoff lives. Stay tuned on this one as another storied chapter could be written tonight.