In the 1970s and '80s, they played for pride, and sometimes blood. In the '90s, they played for berths in the Super Bowl. This season, the NFL's once-upon-a-time best rivalry again takes center stage as the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team play twice in the next three weeks with the NFC East at stake.
Ol’ antagonist George Allen used to douse gasoline on the fire by declaring the days before a Cowboys-Washington game “Dallas Week.” Back then it barely raised an eyebrow, much less the blood pressure, as Dallas routinely won the matchups and had loftier goals than simply dispatching a finger-licking, hand-clapping coach hopped up on the early ancestors of Red Bull.
But as the Cowboys dominated this rivalry in the '70s and won two Super Bowls, Washington returned serve with two championships of its own in the '80s. In the '90s each franchise won championships.
Since then ... crickets.
With the days of Joe Gibbs, Tom Landry, Mark Rypien, Harvey Martin, Washington's "Fun Bunch" and Dallas' "Triplets" long gone, the rivalry has fizzled into something only NFL Films' John Facenda fondly recalls.
Let's be honest, there was a legendary Cowboys-Redskins rivalry. But nothing of substance between Cowboys-Washington.
The last remnants of bad blood in the series were in 2016 between Cowboys' receiver Dez Bryant (retired) and Washington cornerback Josh Norman (now a 49er). Last year when Washington linebacker Jon Bostic almost decapitated then-Cowboys' quarterback Any Dalton during a slide, it barely prompted shoulder shrugs, much less retaliation.
Cowboys' iconic unofficial mascot "Crazy Ray" has passed. So too Allen, Texas Stadium and Washington's venerable RFK Stadium.
The Cowboys last won a Super Bowl in 1995; Washington in 1991. In the last 25 years, the two once-proud franchises have combined to win only six playoff games.
It may not resurrect the venom of yesteryear's America's Team vs. The Hogs, but starting Sunday in D.C. Cowboys-Washington is again at least meaningful. The 8-4 Cowboys hold a two-game lead on Washington, but these bookend games will go a long way toin determining the NFC East champion.
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The Cowboys lead the all-time series, 73–47–2. Washington swept last year's two games by a combined 66-19.
With any luck, one of the upcoming two games will give us a reason to edit our list of the Top 10 most memorable Cowboys-Washington games ...
10. Cowboys 24, at Washington 23 — Dec. 12, 2013: Playing with a back injury that would require season-ending surgery, Tony Romo finds DeMarco Murray for a 10-yard touchdown pass in the final minute as Dallas keeps its playoff chances alive.
9. at Washington 28, Cowboys 18 — Dec. 30, 2012: In the de facto NFC East Championship Game, Washington intercepts Romo three times - including Rob Jackson's pick with 3:07 remaining in a three-point game - and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III leads a series sweep.
8. Cowboys 31, at Washington 30 — Sept. 5, 1983: Danny White rallies Dallas from a 23-3 halftime deficit with four second-half touchdown passes on Monday Night Football.
7. Washington 31, at Cowboys 10 — Dec. 11, 1983: In a showdown of 12-2 powers, the Cowboys trail 14-10 in the fourth quarter when White audibles to a handoff that is snuffed on a key fourth down. On the sideline CBS' cameras catch Landry wincing “No Danny! No!”
6. Cowboys 41, at Washington 35 — Sept. 12, 1999: After trailing 35-14, Dallas wins a dramatic season-opener in overtime on Troy Aikman’s 76-yard touchdown pass to Rocket Ismail.
5. at Washington 22, Cowboys 19 — Nov. 5, 2006: After Washington’s Nick Novak misses a 48-yard field goal in the final minute, Dallas drives for a game-winning 35-yard attempt by Mike Vanderjagt. But the kick is blocked and returned by Sean Taylor, who is brought down by Kyle Kosier with the help of a face-mask penalty. Novak re-enters and nails a 47-yarder on the game’s final play.
4. Washington 13, at Cowboys 7 — Oct. 19, 1987: Washington’s team of picket-line crossing “scab” players shock a team of Cowboys led by White, Tony Dorsett, "Too Tall" Jones and Randy White in an upset that spawns the movie, The Replacements.
3. at Cowboys 24, Washington 23 — Nov. 28, 1974: Trailing 16-3 and with Roger Staubach knocked out of the game with a concussion, unknown backup Clint Longley authors an improbable Thanksgiving miracle with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds remaining.
2. at Washington 14, Cowboys 7 — Oct. 8, 1973: In an epic struggle that seems to go on for minutes, Washington safety Ken Houston finally wrestles Walt Garrison down at the 1-yard line as time expires on Monday Night Football.
1. at Cowboys 35, Washington 34 — Dec. 16, 1979: In Staubach’s final colossal comeback he rallies Dallas from a 34-21 deficit in the last two minutes, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass to Tony Hill that clinches the NFC East. After the game Dallas defensive end Harvey Martin tosses a funeral wreath into Washington’s somber locker room.