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Know your history: The Cowboys-Football Team matchup

Washington’s name change is only the latest wrinkle in this historic rivalry.

Norv Turner

The rivalry between the Dallas and Washington teams has been one of the NFL’s longest lasting rivalries, but this week for the first time, the game will be played specifically between the Cowboys and the Football Team. It’s a strange name change, which will make for an interesting discussion regarding these two teams.

The Cowboys have played the Football Team a grand total of 118 times. That’s tied with the Eagles for most ever matchups against Dallas. It’s also the second-highest win percentage against a team with 20 or more games against the Cowboys, since Dallas holds a 73-43-2 all-time record against Washington. Only two of those games have come in the playoffs, and both were losses for America’s Team.

Both of those playoff games came during a period of great success for the Washington football franchise, which is to say well before Dan Snyder became the owner. The first such playoff contest was during the 1972 season, when then-head coach George Allen in his second year in the nation’s capitol led the team to a division title and an 11-3 record. The 10-4 Cowboys were right behind them in the standings, and destined to face their bitter rival at some point.

After losing to Washington in their first regular season matchup by a close 24-20 score, the Cowboys got revenge in the penultimate game of the season, notching a 34-24 win in Dallas. In the divisional round of the playoffs, both teams advanced; Washington cruised past the Packers 16-3, while Dallas edged out a 30-28 victory over the 49ers, who were coincidentally coached by Mike Nolan’s father Dick. This set up a third game between the divisional rivals to determine which team would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Landry’s Cowboys had just won the Super Bowl the year before, their first ever, and were trying to become only the third team to win a ring in consecutive seasons. But in a shocking twist, Washington thumped the Cowboys in the conference championship game. Roger Staubach was picked three times while Billy Kilmer hit on nearly 78% of his passes to lead his team to a 26-3 win. They ended up losing the Super Bowl to the Dolphins, who became the first (and only, to this date) team to go undefeated in both the regular season and the playoffs.

The second playoff matchup came in 1982. Washington was led by second-year head coach Joe Gibbs, and they were coming off an 8-8 record the prior year. Once again, Washington recorded eight wins, but due to a players strike shortening the season to just nine games, that meant Gibbs’ team had one of the best records at 8-1. That one loss came at the hands of the Cowboys, who finished 6-3 on the year.

Due to the shortened season, Dallas only played Washington the one time, but it was a blowout victory on the road. Tony Dorsett and Ron Springs gashed the defense and the Doomsday Defense picked off Joe Theismann three times for a 24-10 final score. Washington wouldn’t get a chance at revenge until the playoffs started up.

Once again, both teams met in the conference championship game. Dallas had cruised to relatively easy wins over both of the bays (Tampa and Green) by a combined point total of 67-43, while Washington’s suffocating defense led them to routs over both the Lions and Vikings.

Getting their shot for a rematch, Washington didn’t miss the opportunity. Running back John Riggins ran for a whopping 140 yards and two touchdowns, and Washington led 14-3 at halftime; it was the first time all year the Cowboys had trailed at halftime. To start the second half, Dallas had to turn to backup quarterback Gary Hogeboom after Danny White left with a concussion. While he threw two touchdowns, Hogeboom also threw two picks and the Cowboys lost 31-17. That 1982 season ended up being the last year that the Cowboys won a playoff game under Landry, while Washington went on to win their first ever Super Bowl and kickstart a dynasty under Gibbs’ leadership, winning two more Super Bowls later on.

Fast forward to today, and it doesn’t look like these two teams are going to be meeting in the playoffs soon. Dallas is struggling to overcome both a change to their coaching staff under Mike McCarthy and injuries to a bunch of significant players, including Dak Prescott. The Football Team is also adjusting to a new coaching staff under Ron Rivera, who’s coaching this year while also undergoing cancer treatment.

Rivera’s team has already benched last year’s first-round pick Dwayne Haskins for Kyle Allen, although the results haven’t been any real improvement. Washington sits at 1-5 and has lost four straight after upsetting the Eagles in the season opener. Dallas is at 2-4. Th winner of this week’s game will set themselves up for a really good shot at winning the division, whatever that’s worth.

Someone has to win the East this year, even if it means getting bounced in the Wild Card round. With how bad the division is this year, the odds of any good football coming out of their divisional clashes is low. That’s a shame for the first ever Cowboys-Football Team game, considering how rich the history is between these two.