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Know Your History: The Cowboys-Cardinals matchup

Former division rivals, two hometown heroes at QB, and Jerry Maguire. All on Monday Night Football.

FBN-COWBOYS-CARDINALS 01 Photo by MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images

The Cowboys will host the Cardinals on Monday Night Football this week, and it may surprise you just how many times these teams have played each other. No other team outside of the NFC East has more all-time games against America’s Team, with 88 total games. They’ve also had eight different MNF contests, and nine if you count the Cardinals’ thrilling win to clinch the playoffs, due in large part to the legendary receiver Rod Tidwell.

But the Cardinals don’t have Tidwell anymore. Just some average-talent receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins. While the imaginary glory days of Tidwell’s Cardinals are long gone, the fireworks between these two teams has been real. The last time these two met each other happens to have also been on Monday night. It was the 2017 season, and the Cowboys got a 28-17 win on the road thanks in part to Dak Prescott’s gutsy hurdle for a touchdown:

Unfortunately, though, Prescott’s willingness to sacrifice his own body for the extra yards bit him last week, and the Cowboys’ franchise quarterback is out for the year. That means Andy Dalton, former TCU and Katy High School star, will be making his first start for his hometown Cowboys. And he’ll be doing it against the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, as well as a former Aggie and Allen High School star, Kyler Murray. That storyline on its own is making history.

That might look like two characters from a lost season of Friday Night Lights, but it’s not. Murray, a former Heisman winner at Oklahoma, has been on fire operating out of the Air Raid offense the Cardinals have run under second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Aside from spending his free time as a Ryan Gosling impersonator, Kingsbury has built a reputation for his high-powered offenses that, until last year with Arizona, exclusively came in the state of Texas.

Kingsbury coordinated record-breaking college offenses at both Houston and Texas A&M, working with Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel at quarterback. He then spent six seasons as the head coach at Texas Tech, where he worked with both Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. Texas Tech was also Kingsbury’s alma mater, and he was once a star quarterback there under then-head coach Mike Leach, the master of the Air Raid. Kingsbury’s NFL career was brief, but it did include a stint on the Saints’ practice squad, with a familiar face as his offensive coordinator:

If that’s not enough fun connections between these teams and their upcoming matchup, the actual game history ought to do it for you. It stretches all the way back to the Cowboys’ inaugural season, when the Cardinals called St Louis home. In fact, the Cardinals were the second road game in Cowboys history; in Week 5, Tom Landry’s upstart Cowboys team traveled to Busch Stadium to play the 1-3 Cardinals, led by head coach Pop Ivy, the only person to ever serve as a head coach in the NFL, AFL, and the Western Interprovincial Football Union. Remember that nugget for Jeopardy, folks.

Despite the Cardinals coming into the game on a three-game losing streak, they beat Dallas 12-10 in one of the worst games in NFL history. Cardinals quarterback John Roach completed just three of his 14 passes, while Eddie LeBaron was slightly better for Dallas with his 41.6% completion rate. Neither Roach nor LeBaron scored, and both threw a pick. The saving grace for St Louis was running back John David Crow, who ran for 143 yards and a touchdown on just 24 carries.

That first win kicked off a brief streak of dominance for the Cardinals, who won the first six games against Dallas before Dandy Don Meredith’s three total touchdowns led the Cowboys to a 28-24 victory late in the 1963 season. This was the first real start of the rivalry, and the two teams went on to meet 16 times from 1960 to 1969. That’s when the NFL-AFL merger occurred, and the subsequent realignment put both teams in the NFC East, ratcheting up the rivalry.

Heading into the 1970 season, the Cowboys were 7-8-1 against the Cardinals, but had just rattled off four consecutive victories against them as Dallas started to become Super Bowl contenders. Landry was still stubbornly alternating between Craig Morton and Roger Staubach at the time, but Captain America would earn the full-time job during the 1971 season and promptly lead the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl victory.

As divisional foes, these two played each other a whole lot. They had 35 games against each other from the 1970 season to the end of the 1987 season. That’s the point when the Cardinals were relocated to Arizona. They spent six seasons going by the name “Phoenix Cardinals” before becoming the Arizona Cardinals we know today. The relocation signaled a potential change in the Cards’ division standing, but it didn’t happen right away. As it stood, Dallas had a 24-11 record over the St Louis Cardinals since the merger; not much of a heated rivalry.

Moving to the desert didn’t change the Cardinal’s fortunes much. As the Cowboys transitioned from Landry to Jimmy Johnson, the Phoenix Cardinals mustered a 4-2 record against Dallas from 1988 to 1991. Then Johnson’s 90’s Cowboys went off. En route to dominating the NFL, they also manhandled the division-rival Cardinals by winning 13 consecutive games. It wasn’t until the Cowboys’ 1997 season, also known as the beginning of the end for the dynasty, that the Cardinals notched a victory.

The sole playoff matchup between the Cowboys and Cardinals came during the 1998 season under new head coach Chan Gailey. His 10-6 Cowboys had won the East and made a nice rebound from the sharp drop-off under Barry Switzer. The 9-7 Cardinals, who had been swept in the regular season series, met the Cowboys in the Wild Card round for a third game. Troy Aikman played horribly, getting sacked four times and throwing three picks, while Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer threw two touchdowns for a 20-7 upset win.

The next year Gailey took the Cowboys to the playoffs and again lost in the Wild Card, which led to his ousting. Jerry Jones later listed his quick firing of Gailey as his biggest regret, and it’s a big reason why he held onto Jason Garrett for so long. The Cardinals’ upset win over those Cowboys, the lone postseason bout in these teams’ long history together, played an instrumental role in that.

The league realigned again ahead of the 2002 season to accommodate the addition of the expansion Houston Texans, and as a result the Cardinals moved to the NFC West; this was a change long coming, ever since the relocation, and it finally happened. Since then, the two teams have had nine meetings, including that Monday game with Prescott’s crazy touchdown run. The Cowboys are 4-5 in that timespan, which included the infamous moment in Arizona where Garrett iced Dan Bailey for what would’ve been a game-winning field goal; instead, the game went to overtime and the Cardinals won.

All told, the Cowboys lead the all-time series with a commanding 56-32-1 head-to-head record. A lot of those wins are from the Staubach and Aikman days; outside of those two dynasties, it’s often been a close rivalry that’s lost its touch since the Cards left the NFC East. But when Dalton and the Cowboys take the field for their Texas high school showdown, it’ll be a chance for the Red Rifle to finally tie up the post-realignment record against the Red Birds.