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The Giants and Cowboys: A Rivalry With A Common Thread

The two teams first met in 1960 and played to a 31-31 tie. Through the early years the common thread the two teams shared was embodied in one man.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Thomas Wade Landry, Sr. was the common thread that bound the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys together through the early years. A native of Mission, Texas and a graduate of the University of Texas, Austin, Landry first found success in professional football as a member of the New York Giants. In those days there was not a NFL team south of Washington, DC and thus Landry made his reputation far from home.

Landry played defensive back, halfback and quarterback for the Giants teams of the 1950's. During that era they were one of the top teams in professional football. He is one of the few men in league history to have rushed for a touchdown, passed for one, and to have scored touchdowns on both fumble and interception returns. He also earned a Pro Bowl nod as a defensive back in 1954. That was also the year he began his coaching career with the Giants, serving as a player-coach until his retirement as a player after the following season.

It was as the defensive coordinator in New York that Landry began to change the game. At the time the Giants ran a 5-2 defensive scheme but Landry has a very athletic nose tackle whom he wanted to get off of the line of scrimmage so that his abilities would make him more effective. In one move the 4-3 defense and the middle linebacker position were born. The NFL is a copy cat league and once the Giants and Landry experienced success with the new concept the 4-3 spread throughout the league. Landry's innovation soon made him a prospect for a head coaching vacancy.

That job came calling when his home state of Texas was granted an expansion franchise in 1960. Landry became the first (and for an amazing 29 year stretch the only) head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas his innovation continued. Landry's 4-3 evolved into the legendary flex defense and he built two generations of his Doomsday Defense around the scheme. He also changed the way teams evaluated talent, often looking outside the box for men to make his team better. Under Landry, the Cowboys ushered computers and other technology into football.

Tom Landry eventually built one of the great franchises of the NFL, In his career he won two Super Bowl rings to go with the NFL Championship ring he earned with the 1956 Giants.  It would be easy to say his success in Dallas led to his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, but that would be a huge discredit to what Landry did in New York. Those accomplishments are equally worthy of enshrinement. Tom Landry has a significant role in the history of both organizations and he should be remembered for all he accomplished, not just his run in Dallas.

Following his death Alicia Wiggs Landry revealed that, in the wake of his shameful dismissal by Jerry Jones, Coach Landry died a fan of the New York Giants. It is a sad testimony to the way he was treated by the franchise that he built but also high praise for the team that allowed him to become the figure that he was. Tom Landry will always be the tie that binds the two teams in the NFC East rivalry that will be renewed on opening weekend.

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