Let's take a brief break from the 2011 Cowboys, and enjoy some Cowboys history. We'll be back to the here-and-now shortly.
Today, we ascend into the heady atmosphere of the five best Cowboys regular season games of all time, stopping to adjust to the thinner air by recalling a couple of opening season games against the hated Redskins. The first of these was one of Danny White’s finest hours. The other offered a reminder of how fevered was the triplets’ will to win. Both offered huge comebacks (or, monumental collapses, if you will) from seemingly impossible deficits. That both happened in Washington, and left a stadium full of fans morose and silent, made the wins all that much sweeter.
Make the jump...The Cowboys started off the 1983 campaign with a rematch with the team that has ended their previous season, with a 31-17 loss in the NFC Championship game. In that tilt, you may recall, Danny White was knocked out of the game just before halftime, and replaced by Gary Hogeboom, who had played valiantly in defeat. Dallas fans spent the offseason wondering what might have been had White played the entire game; opening day gave them an opportunity to witness a different result.
September 5, 1983: Dallas 31, Washington 30:
When the Redskins and Cowboys played in the 1980s, there was always an electric atmosphere in the crowd. For the 55,045 souls packed into RFK Stadium, the first half couldn't have been better. Seemingly building off the momentum of its Super Bowl run, Joe Theismann, John Riggins, and the "Fun Bunch" of diminutive wideouts amassed 261 first-half yards en route to a 23-3 halftime lead built upon Riggins’ one yard run, a 41-yard Theismann to Charlie Brown pass and thee Mark Mosely field goals.
On the other side of the ball, the Redskins defense punished the Cowboys, who crossed midfield only once, on a 77-yard run by Tony Dorsett in which he was ignominiously run down from behind by an unknown rookie named Darrell Green. Even with Dorsett’s play, Dallas managed a pathetic 85 total yards; Cowboys QB Danny White was held to 1-of-9 passing for just 10 yards. At this point, it looked like a classic beatdown—so much so that a lot of viewers turned off their TVs and got ready for bed.
The Cowboys came out in the third quarter running the ball on four straight plays, drawing in the Redskins defense. On the fifth play of the drive, Danny White executed a lovely play fake and hit a wide open Tony Hill, who had burned Washington corner Vernon Dean. Hill caught the pass at the Redskins 30 yard line and ran into the end zone to complete a 75 yard play. The best thing? The drive took less than three minutes.
The Dallas defense would finally hold the Redskins offense on their next drive, forcing a punt. White and Hill quickly went back to the well, this time from 49 yards out. This time, "thrill" made a terrific one-handed catch over Anthony Washington at the Washington 20, again running the rest of the way, this time for a 51-yard score. With six minutes left in the third quarter, Dallas found itself down 23-17.
As the game crept into the fourth quarter, things continued to go the Cowboys way. The Redskins seemed to have gained a first down deep in Dallas territory on a Theismann to Don Warren reception. But Warren was called for offensive pass interference and the Redskins were forced to attempt a 31-yard field goal. Mosley’s boot sailed wide right and the ‘Skins lost an opportunity to regain momentum.
Danny White went back to work and drove the Cowboys offense 80 yards on 12 plays behind the running of Dorsett (who finished the night with 151 yards on 14 carries) and a crucial spearing penalty on Washington linebacker Mel Kaufman. With the ball at the one-yard line, White saw that tight end Billy Joe Dupree was covered in the back of the end zone, so he tucked the ball away and scored on his own. Dallas took its first lead, 24-23.
On the next drive for the Redskins, cornerback Ron Fellows intercepted a Theismann to Charlie Brown pass at the Redskins 37, returining the ball to the Washington four. Three plays later, White threw his third second-half touchdown pass, this time to tight end Doug Cosbie. With only 1:49 left in the game. Dallas suddenly found themselves with a seemingly insurmountable 31-23 advantage.
The Redskins would score a meaningless touchdown, on a 10-yard Theisman to Warren strike, culminating a hurry-up drive against a prevent defense, but it was too little too late. The Cowboys had played an amazing half of football, piling up 271 yards and outscoring their hated rival 28-7. White more than made up for his moribund first half, completing 8 of his 11 (!) passes, for three touchdowns. Tony Hill had 133 yards on three receptions.
Find the boxscore here
The win carried Dallas through the better part of the season—until the rematch in Dallas, where, in the famous, "No, Danny, no" game, Washington scored a bunch of late points to cruise to a 31-10 victory. Both teams made the playoffs, but enjoyed differing levels of success. Washington stormed through the NFC bracket before the Raiders crushed them in Super Bowl XVIII; thanks in large part to a -4 turnover differential, the Cowboys bowed out in the wild card round, losing to an inferior Rams team 24-17. But for one night in September, they—and their signal caller, White—were on top of the world.
In the second year of the Chan Gaily era, an aging Cowboys squad traveled to the nation’s capital to do battle against their former offensive guru, Norv Turner, who was hired as coach of the Redskins coach after the ’93 season. The previous year, with Jason Garrett filling in for an injured Troy Aikman, Dallas had started off well, cruising to an 8-3 mark before a Thanksgiving debacle against the Vikings and their revenge-minded rookie receiver, Randy Moss, propelled them into a downward spiral and a first-round playoff exit to lowly Arizona. So, Dallas entered the 1999 campaign filled with hope for a better outcome.
September 12, 1999: Dallas 41, Washington 35:
The Cowboys took a 14-3 first quarter lead as Aikman connected with tight end David LaFleur for touchdown passes of 15 and 14 yards on either side of a Redskins field goal. At that point of the game, Dallas seemed to be in charge. That feeling would be short lived, however. In the second and third quarters, Washington moved the ball easily against a wounded Dallas defense that was missing tackle Leon Lett, who has been suspended for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, and injured cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith.
A measure of their struggles: ‘Skins journeyman quarterback Brad Johnson carved them up all afternoon. He hit Michael Westbrook on a 41-yard touchdown pass to get the Redskins to within 14-10 and, after a short Dallas drive, was again chewing up yardage in big chunks. On first and goal, Stephen Davis ran through a huge hole on the left side…and fumbled, with Dallas recovering at their own one-yard line. After an Aikman interception leading to a Redskin field goal and a Dallas punt, Johnson hit Albert Connell on 54-yard bomb to set Washington up deep in Dallas territory once again. Two plays later, however, Greg Ellis sacked Johnson, whose fumble was recovered by George Teague, preserving the Cowboys’ slim margin.
That margin quickly evaporated. The ‘Skins outscored the Cowboys 22-0 in the third quarter. Champ Bailey intercepted Aikman on the second half's opening possession, and Davis's three-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion carry put the Redskins in front, 21-14. After a Dallas three and out, they diced up the Dallas D, with Davis providing the capper, a 7-yard scamper around left end. Following yet another Dallas punt, Johnson lofted a duck to Connell, who came back to the ball catch between two defenders, Darren Woodson and Charlie Williams, both of whom fell, allowing Connell to trot in for a 50-yardscore and a 21-point lead with 1:04 left in the period.
The veteran Cowboys didn’t panic. On their next drive, they kept the ball on the ground, with Emmitt Smith and Chris Warren tearing off several nice runs, with Smith finishing off an 11-play, 70-yard drive with the ninth run, a one-yarder around left end. 10:43 to go, with the Cowboys down by 14, and lining up for a deep kickoff. However, Toby Gowin squibbed a short kick along the right sideline, with Dat Nguyen making a terrific recovery just as he was pushed out of bounds.
The Cowboys’ drive fizzled as Aikman threw high to Irvin on a fourth-and-13 play from the Redskins 28, but their defense rose up for the first time since the first quarter: Washington went three plays and out. After a nice 18-yard pass to Ismail, Dallas faced another fourth down. This time, Emmitt got the necessary yards, with a dive over right guard. On the next play, Aikman hit Irvin on a pretty 37-yard TD down the left sideline. With 3:51 remaining, Dallas was down by seven.
Although Westbrook caught a 31-yard pass to start the Redskins' next drive, it led to nothing, and Dallas got the ball at its 10 with 3:01 left and no timeouts remaining. No matter. Abetted by three Redskins’ offsides, Dallas moved crisply downfield, covering the 90 yards in less than a minute and a half. On third down from the 12, Aikman hit Irvin with the diminutive Darrell Green draped all over him; Richie Cunningham's extra point clanked off the left upright but went through to tie the game.
But there was still an entire game’s worth of action: with 1:46 left, the Redskins had plenty of time, but their offense went three and out, so Aikman and crew suddenly found themselves with a chance to win in regulation. On third down in Washington territory, Aikman’s pass to Wayne McGarrity was tipped by Green to Darryl Pounds, setting up a potentially nauseating reversal of fortunes.
But the football gods favored the Cowboys. A bogus pass-interference penalty against Kevin Mathis gave Washington a first down at the Cowboys 23. Two plays later, with three seconds remaining, ‘Skins kicker Brett Conway lined up for the potential winning kick. But snapper Dan Turk's slightly high snap squirted through his brother, Matt Turk's hands, and Conway recovered, stumbling about before flipping it into the air. Cowboys survive.
And you all know what happened next. After the Redskins won the toss, they drove just into Cowboys territory before Greg Ellis curtailed the drive with his second sack of the game. After taking over at their own five, Dallas worked the ball to a third and short at the 24. Dallas lined up in a jumbo formation, with two tight ends and only the Rocket split out wide.
That’s all they needed. Aikman faked a handoff to Smith as cornerback Darrell Green passed off Ismail to reserve safety Matt Stevens. Stevens, though, was fooled by the fake to Smith and was running toward the line of scrimmage as Ismail raced past him. Aikman hit the wide open Ismail for a 76-yard score as all the Cowboys fans in the stadium, myself included, let out a huge roar.
No defensive battle, this. Both offenses piled up more than 500 yards (Dallas: 541; Washington: 504); Brad Johnson threw for 382 yards, Aikman for 362; Smith and Davis both rushed for 109 yards. Whew…
Want highlights? Find them here. Video of the whole shebang? Go here. The boxscore can be found here.
Although the Cowboys roared out to a 3-0 start, their fortunes soon turned. In game four, Michael Irvin’s career ended on the hardscrabble surface of Veteran’s stadium. Without their spiritual leader, the team stumbled to an 8-8 finish and a hasty first-round playoff exit. In retrospect, we can see that the team of the 90s officially breathed its last that day in Philadelphia. But before expiring, those great champions willed themselves to an incredible comeback victory in hostile conditions. Great stuff, boys. Great stuff.