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Rivalry Edition: The Miracle Comeback in Landover


The year was 1999.

The Denver Broncos had just won the Super Bowl. The Mandalay Bay and Venetian Hotel were opened in Las Vegas. Microsoft had just released Windows 98. The world was introduced to Napster. David Cone had just pitched a perfect game on Yogi Berra Day.

I was a senior at Florida A&M University, driving a broken down 1990 Benz with this album and this album and this album in my CD player. I couldn't get Limp Bizkit's "Re-Arranged" or Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Scar Tissue" out of my head. And I was so sure that the 'Boys would capitalize on their recent success and return to the days of glory. I was still kinda steamed we didn't draft Randy Moss the year before and this new guy Greg Ellis was still in my doghouse. But we still had Emmitt, Troy, Irvin and Deion. We weren't far from getting back to the Super Bowl, I told myself. 

The day was September 1 (which, coincidentally, is the day Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor and Clinton Portis share a birthday).

There were so many similar things about this day and this game and the current Cowboys.  

We started the year 3-0.

Dallas had just signed a new, highly-touted receiver to compliment it's Pro Bowl receiver.

Brad Johnson was behind the center (although not as a Cowboy).

The Redskins coach had ties with the Cowboys organization (Norv Turner was a former offensive coordinator for the 'Boys; Jim Zorn briefly signed with the Cowboys as a free agent before being released).

The Cowboys were dealing with a myriad of injuries.

The Cowboys were coming off a successful double-digit win season, a division title and a crushing playoff loss at home (in 1998 the Cowboys were 10-6, won the NFC East and lost to the Arizona Cardinals in Irving).

One team would have to deal with the aftermath of a high-profile fumbled snap (again, not the Cowboys).


After the game, and an exhausted group of 25 Cowboys rushed the field, Troy Aikman would best capture the mood of the victory.

"I think this is probably the wildest game I've ever been a part of," said Aikman.

On a glorious September day in Landover almost a decade ago, the Cowboys would write a vivid chapter in the storied Cowboys-Redskins rivalry. The 'Boys would stage their largest rally in franchise history, force overtime and then end the game on a 76-yard bomb. The Cowboys win 41-35 in a thriller!

Dan Snyder had just bought the Redskins for $800 million. His team would quickly fall behind 14-3 after two David LaFleur touchdown catches. The story goes that he gave Norv Turner an ultimatum to "get into the playoffs or else" before the season. Whatever the motivation, the Redskins would respond and take advantage of injuries and Leon Lett's suspension.

Here's ESPN's recap of the walking wounded. 

Cornerback Deion Sanders, who had April toe surgery in April, warmed up but did not play. With Sanders, Kevin Smith (back), Leon Lett (suspension) and Quentin Coryatt (Achilles' tendon) missing from the Dallas defense, Washington had no problems moving the ball for three quarters.

Despite two lost fumbles in the red zone, the Redskins picked on the dubious duo of Kevin Mathis and Charlie Williams. Brad wasn't the stiff he is now and picked the secondary apart to the tune of 382 yards. He would connect with Albert Connell and Michael Westbrook for long touchdowns of 41 yards and 50 yards respectively. Stephen Davis would add 109 yards and touchdowns. At the end of the third quarter, the Cowboys would be on the business end of a 35-14 deficit.

Emmitt would score with less than 11 minutes to go to trim the lead to 14 points. The defense stiffened and gave the ball back to offense. Aikman promptly drove the team down 66 yards down the field, eventually hitting Irvin for a 37-yard touchdown reception with less than four minutes left. Still time to make history. After a renewed vigor and sense of determination on defense, the 'Boys would get the ball again. It would even take that long. Aikman to Irvin for a 12-yard touchdown with less than 2 minutes left. But being the drama kings the Cowboys are, coming back from a 21-point deficit wouldn't be enough. Richie Cunningham would try his best to blow the extra point by hitting the left upright before shanking the kick in. This play would force overtime after punter Matt Turk's fumbled snap at the 41 killed the Redskins chances in regulation.

You know the rest. On a 3rd and 2 deep in their terrority Chan Gailey goes for the jugular. Aikman gives a powerful play-action fake, Ismail splits the safeties and it's off to the races. Seventy-six yards to pay dirt, a 1-0 record, and best of all, darn near 80,000 long faces leave Jack Cooke Kent Stadium (now FedExField) dejected and demoralized.


Even D Woody couldn't contain his jubilation.

"I acted like a 5-year-old girl after that catch," said strong safety Darren Woodson, who was one of about 25 players who rushed downfield to mob Ismail. "The feeling was like we had won the Super Bowl."

There were few moments of joy after this game. Due to age and injuries, we'd limp to an 8-8 record and an embarassing playoff loss to the Vikings that year. Irvin's career would basically be over. The following year Troy Aikman's career would basically end and we'd give up our firstborn for another highly-touted receiver who wouldn't last a game before he was hurt for the season.

Regardless, this moment was worth savoring. It was a moment in time when the Triplets beat back the hands of time, along with the help from some of the new generation. We were counted out and left for dead and the old hands resurrected that Cowboy pride that led them to three championships in four years. It would be the first of many times we'd wipe that smirk off of Snyder's face and leave recycled bins filled with plastic hog noses.

Let's hope we do the same Sunday.  


Sources used in this article:

CBS News



Dallas Morning News

Washington Post

The Abilene Reporter News

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