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Rivalry Nostalgia

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As one who has been following the Cowboys for my entire lifetime, this week has special meaning. With all due respect to the Giants and Eagles, the Cowboys/Redskins rivalry is in my mind the most bitter, the most storied, and the most blood-boiling of any in the NFL. Of course, other teams would beg to differ, but hey, that's their prerogative.

You all know the beginning - Texas oilman Clint Murchison, Jr., had failed to buy a team to move to Dallas. In 1958, he heard that Redskins owner George Preston Marshall wanted to sell the Redskins. Just before announcing the sale, Marshall called Murchison with changes to the terms. Murchison was understandably ticked and canceled the deal.

Apparently Marshall wasn't too likeable of an owner, as he also had a dispute with the Redskins' band leader, Barnee Breeskin, who penned the team's fight song, Hail to the Redskins, setting music to lyrics written by Marshall's wife. With this leverage, Breeskin approached Murchison's lawyer with the opportunity to purchase the rights to the song. That deal, probably the most important deal Murchison made at the time, cost him a mere $2,500.

Fast-forward a couple of years, where Murchison decides the best way to get a team in Dallas is via the expansion route. At the same time that Lamar Hunt was establishing the Dallas Texans with 7 other teams in the upstart American Football League, Murchison gained the support of George Halas to put the proposal in front of the owners. A unanimous decision would be the only way that Murchison would get a franchise.

At the owners meeting, all owners voted for the franchise except one - Marshall. In a move indicative of cigar-smoking, back-room deals, Murchison would relenquish the rights to the song for Marshall's vote for expansion. And the rest is history.

And it didn't warm up between the two franchises. After the 1999 Thanksgiving Day game, I spoke with the late Harvey Martin about the end-of-season game in 1979 and the infamous funeral wreath incident. Martin wouldn't tell me how, but he was emphatic that he "knew" the wreath came from players on the Redskins.

If you have not heard of this incident, it was the final week of the season. The Redskins were travelling to Texas Stadium with both teams vying for a playoff spot. During the week running up to the game, a funeral wreath was delivered to Martin. He kept it in the locker room as "inspiration". The Cowboys defeated the Redskins 35-34, giving the Cowboys a record of 11-5, giving them the division title over the 11-5 Philadelphia Eagles and causing the 10-6 Redskins to miss the playoffs.

After the game, Martin took the wreath over to the visitors' locker, opened the door and tossed the wreath in amongst the vanquished competitors.

After 20 years, there was still a gleam in Harvey's eye as he reminisced about it.