Rivalry Roots Run Deep Between Washington And Dallas

Larry French

Since day one, the Redskins and Cowboys have provided football fans with one of the biggest rivalries in football. Unlike many such rivalries, this one goes back to even before the Cowboys came into existence. Let's go back in time to look at the origins of one of the NFL's greatest rivalries.

Even before the Dallas franchise began, there was some bad blood between the owner of the Redskins, George Preston Marshall, and the man who would become the owner of a team that was initially known as the Dallas Steers, Clint Murchison, Jr. You see, in the late 1950's Murchison had negotiated a deal with Mr. Marshall to purchase the Washington franchise and move them to Texas. After the Redskins owner backed out of the deal at the last minute, things turned nasty. Marshall resorted to spreading rumors among his fellow owners that reflected badly on Murchison's character, as he opposed Murchison's attempts to secure an expansion team to fulfill his vision of an NFL team in Dallas. What resulted was an interesting battle of wills among two men, each of whom envisioned himself as the owner of a football team that would represent the southern United States in the NFL.

Infringing On "Redskins Territory"

Marshall considered the Washington Redskins, at that time the southern-most franchise in the league, to be the "home team" of those who resided south of the Mason-Dixon line. To build his fan base, Marshall had established an extensive network of radio stations in the south and anyone who attempted to locate another squad in what he considered to be his territory naturally met with Marshall's opposition. This included attempting to halt Pete Rozelle's move to expand the league's market by opening up new sections of the country.

Marshall asserted that the Redskins market was the South. All of it, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. If it was below the Mason-Dixon line, it was Redskins territory - Anthony Brown, RunningRedskins

My Kingdom For A Song

Using the fact that league rules required a unanimous vote of owners before an expansion team could be added, Marshall was able to stonewall Rozelle's attempt to cash in on the southern marketplace. He had too much invested in his fanbase to allow anyone else to move in on his territory. At that point, Marshall made his first critical mistake. The team fight song, "Hail To The Redskins" did not belong to Mr. Marshall; the rights were owned by former bandleader Barnee Breeskin, who was the song's composer. Aware of the feud between his old boss and Mr. Murchison, Breeskin sold the rights to the song to Murchison. That gave the Texan the leverage he needed to sway Marshall's vote on expansion. In the words of Redskins blogger Anthony Brown:

You can't be a true Washingtonian unless you know the first four lines of Hail To The Redskins! It's the song as much as anything that has fans clinging to the team name Redskins. With his beloved tune held ransom, Marshall relented on the Dallas franchise. But, boy was he pissed.

A Quarterback Controversy

With Dallas being granted a team to begin play in 1960, the league allowed Murchison and his staff to draft existing players from the rosters of the other franchises. To protect key pieces, teams were allowed to "protect" a number of athletes from the expansion draft. At this point Marshall made his second critical error. He failed to protect his Pro Bowl ('55, '57, '58) quarterback Eddie LeBaron. Seeing an opportunity; Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, the Cowboys head coach and general manager, did not hesitate. They immediately selected LeBaron to be the Cowboys original starting quarterback. This was viewed by Marshall as Murchison rubbing salt in an open wound and he would not let the issue die.

Marshall considered Murchison and his Texans underhanded. Historically, that made Marshall the first Washingtonian to say "Cowboys suck!" He took it personally and made sure his team took it personally.

In fact, Marshall was so angered by the move that he insisted that, after the Minnesota Vikings joined the league in 1961, the Cowboys be moved from the Western Division to the Eastern Division of the NFL so that he could exact a measure of revenge on the football field. As a result, starting in 1961, the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins would play twice a season. Over the years many fabled names have done battle on behalf of the two franchises and fans have been treated to some illustrious battles and a few hijinks, as well. Each season has added its own elements to a storied history that continues to add chapters each year.

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