My name is Ken Meringolo and I am Managing Editor of the Redskins SB Nation site, Hogs Haven. I wrote this piece for a magazine last year and I felt compelled to share it with you. While I am unable/unwilling to depart completely from my inherent bias, I felt like this article paid proper respect to the fans of both teams--without forcing me to throw up a little in my mouth in the process! I am sure we can disagree about opinions contained herein, but I hope we can agree that no matter what happens, our two teams are connected by much more than being in the same division. I hope you enjoy it.
Die-hard fans of teams around the country all share at least one thing in common: there is one opponent that their team plays every year for which they reserve a unique distaste. Fans of Michigan and Ohio State feel that way about each other. Fans of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox feel that way about each other. Fans of the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys feel that way about each other.
In order to be considered a great rivalry, there has to be a history. This history must extend beyond just on-the-field results. The contempt inherent in every great rivalry is very much based on stories of mischief between fans, contempt between organizations, and above all else, a great respect for the game that both teams play. The debate over which team boasts the "best fans in the NFL" will rage forever, but there is little argument that fans of both the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys belong firmly at the forefront of any such discussion. In 2008, Sports Illustrated called this matchup the top NFL rivalry of all-time and "one of the greatest in sports." If that is true-and we believe it is-what led to this...what is the history?
This particular rivalry goes back as far as it possibly can-to the inception of the Dallas franchise (the Redskins franchise had been around for years before the Cowboys were formed.) Clint Murchison, Jr. was doing his best to bring an NFL team to Dallas, having tried and failed two separate times to negotiate the purchase of a team. He caught wind that George Preston Marshall was trying to sell the Redskins in 1958 and quickly set to get the deal done. Marshall backed out of the deal in the 11th hour and left a furious Murchison at the table. Around the same time, Marshall had become entangled in a public spat with Redskins band director, Barnee Breeskin. Marshall's timing was awful. Breeskin, in an attempt to get revenge on Marshall for his poor treatment, sought out Clint Murshison and sold him the rights to the Redskins fight song (Breeskin had written the music, and Marshall's wife had penned the lyrics), which was played religiously at Redskins games every week.
Still without a team, Murchison-now with the full support of George Halas-changed strategies and set out to create his own franchise. In order for the Dallas franchise to be approved, it needed unanimous approval from all the other owners. I'll give you one guess as to who was the only owner in the NFL that opposed approval of the Dallas team. When Marshall was made aware that Murchison owned the rights to the Redskins fight song however, a deal was struck. The song was returned and Dallas began competing in the NFL in the 1960. But the story does not end there. Marshall famously forgot to include Pro Bowl quarterback Eddie LeBaron on the "protected" list prior to the expansion draft Dallas engaged in per NFL rules. So the first starting quarterback in Dallas Cowboys history was none other than a stolen (fairly) Pro Bowl quarterback from the Washington Redskins.
On the field, the Cowboys own the advantage, with an all-time series record of 60-40-2. From 1990 to the present, the Cowboys hold a 27-15 edge in the series, prompting Emmitt Smith's infamous quote, "What rivalry?" Things have tightened up in recent years with the teams having evenly split the last 10 games. No pair of teams have faced off more times on Monday Night Football than the Redskins and Cowboys (14 appearances.) Going back to 1973, the MNF series is tied 7-7 between the two clubs, aiding in the perception of the rivalry from the national audience.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1974, rookie Clint Longley would come off the bench for Roger Staubach and lead the Cowboys to a last-minute victory that devastated head coach George Allen. In 1979, with the division title in the balance, the Cowboys pulled off a miraculous come-from-behind win thanks to the heroics of Roger Staubach. Harvey Martin, then a defensive end for the Cowboys had received a funeral wreath earlier in the week (likely as part of a prank.) Following the victory, he barged into the Washington locker room and hurled the wreath into the center of the room during a team prayer.
Great moments exist for Redskins fans as well. Ken Houston's game-saving tackle at the one-yard line as time ran out in 1973 preserved a Washington victory. In the 1983 NFC Championship game, Dexter Manley knocked Danny White out of the game and later tipped a pass that Darryl Grant intercepted and returned for a touchdown that decided the game. When a players' strike caused owners to use "replacement players" in 1987, the Washington "scabs" were 2-0 going into a matchup against Dallas. Danny White, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Ed Jones, and other veterans crossed the picket line and suited up for the Cowboys, but were famously upset by the Washington replacement players. The Warner Brothers movie, "The Replacements" is loosely based on these 1987 Redskins replacement players.
The ability for each team to match up with the other despite their records or recent performances has been a hallmark of this great rivalry. The first year they faced off against each other, the Redskins won-it was the only game they would win that season. In 1989, Dallas won a single game. It was against the Redskins and ultimately cost Washington a playoff berth.
Legendary coaches also made their marks on this series. Tom Landry visited RFK stadium for the last time in 1988, and stunned the defending Super Bowl Champions behind a 3-touchdown performance from rookie wide receiver Michael Irvin that kept the Redskins out of the playoffs. Joe Gibbs' last victory at RFK stadium came against the Cowboys in 1992 thanks to a memorable Danny Copeland fumble recovery in the end zone. And in 2006, Sean Taylor returned a blocked field goal to the Cowboys' 44-yard line with no time left on the clock of a tied-up ballgame. Thanks to a 15-yard facemask penalty by a Dallas offensive lineman and the NFL's rule that a game can't end on a defensive penalty, one play was added to the end of the game and Nick Novak kicked the game-winning field goal, sending Redskins fans yelling and screaming through the concourse and into the parking lot.
Off the field, the rivalry is as strong as ever. In 2005, Darrell Armstrong, a lifelong Redskins fan and guard for the Dallas Mavericks, grabbed the microphone before a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and shouted, "How ‘bout those Redskins!?" Earlier in the day, Washington had handed Bill Parcells the most lopsided loss of his coaching career.
As a lifelong Redskins fan, I always wondered what they thought of the rivalry in Dallas. I got my answer in 2008 when I flew into Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. I was wearing a throwback burgundy Darrell Green jersey. It did not manage to escape the attention of many passersby. The responses I heard from strangers ranged from, "I root for two teams: Dallas and whoever is playing the Redskins," to "BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" I was encouraged by many to remove the jersey if I planned on ordering anything to eat or drink nearby-the implication being my food would be served with...potential defects.
The Redskins and Cowboys have combined for 8 NFL Championships, 27 Divisional Titles, 13 Super Bowl Appearances and 102 meetings since 1960. The rich histories of each franchise are irrevocably intertwined with the other. Fans of these two storied franchises consider themselves fans of the game itself, adding even more meaning to each new chapter in the rivalry. Perhaps this is all why the rivalry between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys is considered among the greatest rivalries in all of sports.