Commentary

Rebirth of Cowboys-Redskins rivalry?

De facto NFC East championship game could jump-start duel for new generation

Updated: December 30, 2012, 6:50 PM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- After Sunday's loss to New Orleans, DeMarco Murray was asked whether he knew much about the Dallas Cowboys' rivalry with the Washington Redskins.

"Nope," he said matter-of-factly.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III and Tony Romo
Rodger Mallison/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III and Tony Romo could usher in a new era in the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry.

It's not Murray's fault. After all, he is only 24 years old.

"Players are young," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Tyron Smith was born in 1990. You've got to keep in mind of that. But there is always a great sense of tradition when you play these games in the NFC East. These games go back a long way. A lot of great teams, a lot of great coaches and players have been involved in these rivalries, so, again, we are excited to be part of this one."

Sunday's game at FedEx Field will be for the NFC East championship and a home playoff game, and it could rekindle a rivalry that was among the NFL's best.

The Cowboys and Redskins have not played such a meaningful game since the 1982 NFC Championship Game.

There have been moments -- the only win in Jimmy Johnson's first season in 1989, the victory in '91 that ended the Redskins' undefeated run and kick-started the Cowboys' playoff push that year, the return of Joe Gibbs to the sideline, the Redskins' comeback when the Triplets were inducted into the Ring of Honor -- but nothing quite as sustainable as the 1970s and '80s.

"

Staubach We really didn't like the Redskins, and they didn't like us. It wasn't a fake bitterness. It's just the way it was.

" -- Former Cowboys QB Roger Staubach

Since the Redskins beat the Cowboys 31-17 at RFK Stadium on Jan. 22, 1983, the teams have finished with winning records in the same season just eight times. From 1971-82, both teams finished with winning records nine times. From 1971-77, they finished first or second in the Eastern Division five times. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, they finished Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference standings.

"We really didn't like the Redskins, and they didn't like us," Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach said. "It wasn't a fake bitterness. It's just the way it was."

While the franchises fought over a fight song, it was former Redskins coach George Allen who turned up the volume on the rivalry, firing up even the normally stoic Tom Landry.

"You could tell when we were playing the Redskins," Ring of Honor wide receiver Drew Pearson said. "You didn't have to check the schedule because Coach Landry would come in with a little extra pep in his step, more excitement in his voice, all those things. We picked up on that and said, 'Hey, this must be a big game because look at how Coach Landry is this week.'"

Staubach and Pearson said the Cowboys would buy up the rooms at the Days Inn next to the Cowboys' practice fields during Redskins Week for fear of spies sent from Allen to watch practice.

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"I think the George Allen-Tom Landry thing was more competitive than people realized," Staubach said.

As a rookie in 1973, Pearson's first game was against Dick Butkus and Chicago.

"You talk about intimidated," Pearson said. "I didn't want to play in that game with the way he was grunting out there."

But then three weeks later, he got his first taste of Cowboys-Redskins.

"I stepped on the field for pregame warm-ups, and when we got back in the locker room, I was upset at my teammates because they didn't tell me the magnitude of this game," Pearson said. "They introduced us, and I couldn't hear what they were saying. They introduced them, and their fans are just going crazy. I swear that stadium was rocking and swaying."

Staubach still carries with him the pain from losing the 1972 NFC Championship, 26-3. He had missed most of the regular season with a shoulder injury, but Captain Comeback beat San Francisco in the divisional round after taking over for Craig Morton.

Staubach started the championship game, but the Cowboys were dominated. Reading the newspaper the next day, Staubach saw where defensive tackle Diron Talbert said the Redskins were glad he started over Morton.

"It was another of those stick-it-to-you things," Staubach said. "But if you look at the history in every key game after that, we beat the Redskins. All the important games that we had to win, we won, so I didn't think it worked. It sure ticked me off when he said that after the game."

In 1973, the Cowboys finished first in the NFC East based on better point differential in head-to-head games against the Redskins, thanks to a 27-7 win in the second-to-last game. In 1974, the Mad Bomber was born when Clint Longley, subbing for an injured Staubach, hit Pearson for a 50-yard touchdown in the final seconds in a 24-23 win. The Cowboys beat the Redskins 31-10 on Dec. 13, 1975, to clinch a playoff spot.

In 1976, the Cowboys had their only late-season loss to the Redskins, dropping the finale 27-14, then losing in the divisional round of the playoffs a week later to the Los Angeles Rams.

The final regular-season game of Staubach's career, on Dec. 16, 1979, was similar to what the 2012 Cowboys and Redskins face, with the winner taking the division.

Staubach threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:20 for a 35-34 win at Texas Stadium that knocked the Redskins out of the playoffs. Harvey Martin sent Washington into the offseason by flinging a funeral wreath into its locker room after the game.

"I think this kind of game on Sunday rejuvenates the future because there's been a feel for that rivalry that's not been there to the modern, younger people," Staubach said. "When you see RG III and Tony [Romo], the teams have two great quarterbacks, so they have the ingredients to be very competitive for the next number of years."

Staubach said he will be more nervous watching on television than he was when he played. Pearson can't wait for Sunday, either.

"My blood is boiling now," Pearson said. "I'm going to pull out some old tapes and start watching them. I just feel it. It's a natural thing. I'm not going to start stretching or anything, but if they need me I'll be ready. I bet Randy White would love some of that action.

"There's no question, any time you get a shot at the Redskins, you want to take it."

It's something the new generation could start to learn Sunday.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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