The Dallas-Washington Rivalry is one of the most storied in NFL history. The deciding factor has always been break-out performances by individuals, some of which are chronicled below.
Sonny Jurgensen and Don Meredith were the main characters in the first epic duels between 1965 and 1967.
At first these were two teams with only a coincidental connection. The legend that started the rivalry in 1960 was that oil baron Clint Murchison knew he could not get approval for a new NFL franchise in Texas without the tie-breaking vote of George Preston Marshall, then the owner of the Washington Redskins. The Redskins were at the time in a long slump since their last title in 1942. Marshall's ace card was his marketing of the Redskins as the Team of the South by closing broadcasting deals for Washington games throughout Virginia, North Carolina and the rest of Dixie. This was amplified by his unofficial policy of not signing or drafting black players. For him the existence of another team south of DC would spell a huge blow to his wallet. In order to swing Marshall, Murchison purchased the copyright to "Hail to the Redskins" from the song's disgruntled composer Barnie Breeskin and then leveraged it in negotiations with Marshall. The Redskins' owner, whose key marketing gimmick at games was to produce a college game atmosphere that was lacking at most other NFL stadiums, was confronted with the possibility of losing his fight song, and caved in.
Meredith vs. Jurgensen
Other than that, the first few years of the saga were uneventful, because both teams were truly disastrous on the field. Some Dallas fans protested the Redskins' racial policy in the chicken protests.
In 1965 Don Meredith started Dallas' climb from the cellar into contention prior to the Super Bowl era. One obstacle that prevented Dallas from having its first winning season was the Redskins who remained unheralded also-rans, yet also were led by a veteran QB, Sonny Jurgensen formerly of the Eagles. The Cowboys won the first meeting on September 26, 27-7, and built up a 21-0 lead at Washington's DC Stadium (later RFK). Jurgensen, despite calls from the stands to be benched, muscled back and led the Redskins to a see-saw 34-31 victory.
Meredith would return the favour almost a year later by leading Dallas on a game-ending drive decided by a late hit penalty against Washington after he scrambled out of bounds allowing for a Danny Villanueva field goal. In 1967 the Cowboys would also take the victory at DC Stadium on a last minute drive by Meredith where hit future Broncos head coach Dan Reeves with a decisive touchdown to win 17-14.
40 Men Together. . .
No greater contrast can be found than Tom Landry and George Allen.
In 1969 the new Redskins owner, Jack Kent Cooke, hired Vince Lombardi away from the Green Bay Packers in the hopes that he would be the catalyst that would bring them into playoff contention rather than just the average team that they had been for the rest of the '60s. Lombardi was a proven winner, more so than his predecessor, head coach Otto Graham (who had succeeded as a Browns quarterback but not as a coach). He also had defeated Dallas in two consecutive NFL championships in 1966 and 1967. Lombardi improved the Redskins for the 1969 season to a 7-5-2 record, their first winning season since 1955. But the following season he died only two days before the first game causing the team to finish with a 6-8 record.
Cooke realized that the antidote wasn't a player, but a coach who could build a fire underneath those players. He found former LA Rams coach George Allen. It is thanks to this man that the rivalry truly became what it is today. Allen's whole system was built in reaction to Tom Landry's in Dallas. Whereas Dallas depended heavily on the draft even in winning years, and invested in selecting the right players such as Bob Hayes and Calvin Hill, Allen's philosophy was that "the future is now" and that draft picks could be traded for veteran players who were ready to excel on the pro level. This was Allen's subtler approach to reviving the franchise. His more direct methods included his rah-rah motivational speeches to his players before games where he incited them to hate the opponent. And the opponent that inspired him the most were the Cowboys. Unlike Landry, Allen was not into the more cerebral and scientific aspects of the game, but had an almost spiritual connection to it, claiming that "40 men together can't lose!" Thanks to George Allen, Washington would upend Dallas in their first playoff meeting, the 1972 NFC Championship, 23-3, only to be squashed by the perfect Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII.
Clint Longley (L), the rookie who outfoxed George Allen's veteran system and Billy Kilmer (R).
Allen dubbed his geriatric group of players the "Over the Hill Gang" and for most of the 1970s Washington was one of football's premier clubs, although they only saw one Super Bowl and were often outmatched in the playoffs, twice by the Vikings. Allen also had a near paranoiac obsession with the Dallas Cowboys. On Thanksgiving Day of 1974, Allen was as usual in his beast mode in preparation for the Washington-Dallas game, especially since he firmly believed that his squad, led by quarterback Billy Kilmer in his twilight years, would be able to accomplish Washington's first season sweep of Dallas and first victory at the new Texas Stadium. The game certainly started out in his favour, as the Redskins were able to limit Roger Staubach and the Cowboys to only one field goal. With ten minutes left Staubach was knocked out of the game with the score 16-3 and rookie Clint Longley filling his shoes.
The subsequent reversal would go down as one of the most unexpected turning points in NFL history: Longley engineered a comeback that included two touchdown passes including the game winner to Drew Pearson. Longley's feat was a stunning rebuttal to George Allen's philosophy; not only was he a rookie, but he had been drafted out of Division II Abilene Christian and was making his pro debut against a team of only seasoned vets. The rest of the Allen era would see success, but no titles. In 1977 Dallas would win its second Super Bowl and would also be the first season since 1970 that the Cowboys would sweep Washington. Allen also never succeeded at his goal of taking a road victory from Dallas. He turned down an offer from the ownership for an extension, and Jack Pardee took over.
A Long Dark Era with brief bright spots
Redskins defender Dexter Manley (L) was a menace during the 1980s while Tony Dorsett was one of the better achievers of an otherwise declining Dallas team.
In 1982 Washington was no longer Allen's Home for the Aged, but was led by a more subtle and contemplative coach in Joe Gibbs. They often made do with players who had been acquired during the previous years, such as longtime backup QB Joe Theismann and former NY Jet John Riggins, but were still considered a colourful group just like during the '70s. The same could not be said of the Cowboys. Tom Landry remained as coach, but Staubach would retire in 1979 (his career shortened at the outset by his stint in the Vietnam War as a naval officer). Tony Dorsett, Harvey Martin, and Ed "Too Tall" Jones would remain throughout the 1980s, but in this decade the Redskins would have all of the accomplishments. The tipping point was the 1982 NFC Championship. At the time it was possible for two teams from the same division to win the first round bye due to a strike shortened season, and that's exactly what happened with the Redskins winning the East and Dallas trailing. Theismann and Co. were buoyed by a capacity crowd at RFK chanting "We Want Dallas" and were able to beat Dallas 31-17 en route to their first Super Bowl victory over Miami. LB Dexter Manley had a crucial hit in that game that sent Dallas QB Danny White to the dressing room, and John Riggins scored two running TD's as a preview to his Super Bowl MVP date.
White would avenge that game the following season with a 31-30 thrilling comeback to knock off Theismann, and in 1985 the Cowboys defense dismantled him with five interceptions on his birthday in a 44-14 shocker during the most difficult year of his career. The famous Scab Game of 1987 is also a point of contentious in both fan communities. The Redskins rode the talents of Tony Robinson, a convicted felon to an improbable win over White and other Cowboys regulars who crossed the picket line during a strike.
The Triplets and the Decline of the house that Joe Built.
Gary Clark (L) was a mainstay of Joe Gibbs' later title runs, while Raghib Ismail (R) made a brief but memorable splash in the rivalry.
The late 1980s are remembered as the Dark Ages for the Dallas Cowboys, yet they were only swept twice in the decade by Washington, even earning their lone victory of 1989 against the Redskins. The first victory of Jimmy Johnson's 1992 Cowboys was a Monday Night upset against the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins. Joe Gibbs would retire following that season, and the Triplets of Emmit Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin would make the Cowboys a prime time fixture again by winning three Super Bowls in four years.
By the end of the 1990s both teams were no longer among the NFL elite. Following Gibbs' retirement the Redskins fired his replacement Richie Petitbon after one season and languished under Norv Turner due to poor talent. A symbol of this was 1994 1st round draft pick Heath Shuler, considered the biggest draft bust in franchise history. The estate of the deceased Jack Kent Cooke sold the Redskins to Daniel Snyder in 1998. The Cowboys were hounded by legal run-ins by Irvin and offensive tackle Erik Williams among others, and the downfall of both Johnson and his replacement Barry Switzer. On opening day 1999 at RFK Stadium the Redskins built a 35-14 lead through the arm of Brad Johnson. Troy Aikman and the Cowboys then engineered an improbable fourth quarter comeback and tied it at 35 to send it to overtime. Raghib "Rocket" Ismail then ended the game by beating a blown coverage and easily catching a play action pass to end the game 41-35.
The Redux Decade
Terrell Owens saved some of his best performances for rivalry games.
The 200s may have been the first decade of the new millennium, but both Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder reached back and tried to use retro coaches to resurrect their moribund teams. The Redskins convinced both Marty Schottenheimer and Joe Gibbs, by then a NASCAR team owner, to leave retirement for the sideline again. The Cowboys brought in Bill Parcells so that he would instill some real discipline and standards as opposed to the relaxed methods of Dave Campo.
Although neither team would win a title in the 2000s, the Parcells-Gibbs era would feature a host of important performances, such as an error-filled 2006 game where the Redskins blocked a Mike Vanderjagt field goal setting up their own game winner by Nick Novak. The following year Cowboy WR Terrell Owens would dominate at home catching four touchdown passes in a 28-23 victory.
The current generation
Kicker Dan Bailey (L) has had clutch moments in past Redskins-Cowboys games, and this year as well. Santana Moss (R) has been overshadowed by new Redskin Pierre Garcon this season but remains a lethal threat.
The Mike Shanahan Redskins made a quantum leap this year by drafting two great players, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, and signing another one, Pierre Garcon. They certainly ruined our Thanksgiving holiday by positively scorching the battered Cowboys secondary.
But past years have shown that sometimes the team that wins does so without any rhyme or reason. Last season Dallas' offensive line registered one of the most boneheaded performances ever seen, particularly center Phil Costa who repeatedly snapped the ball off count when prompted by the defense's fake cadence. Tony Romo failed to bring Dallas to the end zone, but Dallas still prevailed off of six Dan Bailey field goals, 18-16. The game this Sunday night is sure to be a revelation in terms of both teams. But in many of the rivalry's signature games it hasn't been a signature player, like Romo, Dez Bryant, RG3, or DeAngelo Hall, but rather somebody who briefly steps out of the shadows. Vote below who you think will be the man to do it for the Dallas Cowboys to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.