When the Dallas Cowboys face the San Francisco 49ers this weekend in the NFC Wild Card playoff, it will be 27 years since their last playoff meeting — Jan. 15, 1995.
It will also be a matchup that has never happened before between the Cowboys and 49ers. They’ve never met in a Wild Card playoff game.
Oh, and the oddsmakers think the outing at AT&T Stadium will be tight: Dallas is presently favored by 3, with the over/under at 49.5 points.
But back to history …
In fact, the idea of the two teams meeting to open a postseason is nearly foreign. It happened just once, back in 1972, when the pair met in the NFC Divisional playoff. The NFL didn’t have a Wild Card round back then.
But, even after the NFL implemented the Wild Card round in 1978, a meeting between the Cowboys and 49ers REALLY meant something.
Six of those meetings in NFC Championship games.
Five of the winners of those NFC Championship games won Super Bowls.
Historically, each is the other’s ‘gateway drug,’ so to speak. And that ‘drug’ is the Super Bowl.
It’s a playoff history that spans three decades, three stadiums — all of which are no longer NFL stadiums — and a pathway to greatness for the victor.
Texas Stadium, the home of the Cowboys’ last playoff win over San Francisco in January of 1994, is gone now.
Candlestick Park, the site of that last Cowboys-49ers playoff game in 1995, the one the 49ers won to go to Super Bowl XXIX, is gone now, too.
The site of their first playoff meeting, San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, is still around, tucked inside legendary Golden Gate Park. It still hosts high school football games and the city’s high school football championship, called ‘The Turkey Bowl.’
Should either the Cowboys or the 49ers manage to get to the Super Bowl next month, they’ll play in a stadium that didn’t exist and in a city that that just lost both of its NFL teams when they last met in the postseason — SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. SoFi now hosts two NFL teams. At the of the 1994 season, both the Rams and Raiders left town. The Rams are back, and the Raiders are in Las Vegas.
It’s safe to say much has changed.
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But the Cowboys’ and 49ers’ previous meetings were sea changes in the NFC in three different decades.
Back in the 1990s, the Cowboys emerged as the decade’s dominant team. They won three Super Bowls in four years, something no team had done to that point. To do it, the Cowboys had to dethrone the ‘Team of the 1980s,’ the 49ers. On Jan. 17, 1993, the Cowboys did it, beating San Francisco, 30-20, at Candlestick Park.
Of course, if you followed the Cowboys back then, you KNOW that’s where “How 'bout them Cowboys?” came from.
The 49ers were eager for revenge the following year, when the pair met again on Jan. 23, 1994, at Texas Stadium. To say it was a highly-anticipated matchup would be an understatement. But revenge had to wait. The Cowboys won that game, 38-21, and went on to win another Super Bowl.
It took the 49ers another year to finally get over the hump, beating the Cowboys at Candlestick, 38-28, in that 1995 postseason game. It was the end of a three-year run of thrilling postseason football.
Many will say it should have gone on longer. The same COULD be said for the 1980s.
The 49ers and Cowboys met just once in the postseason in the 1980s, but it’s the stuff of legend — the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982, at Candlestick Park. The game is known to most by two words — ‘The Catch.’ Joe Montana’s touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the corner of the end zone led the 49ers to a 28-27 win and sparked their own dynasty, as they won four Super Bowls in a span of eight seasons.
The Cowboys were still good enough to reach the NFC title game in the 1982 season. But the rise of the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team, and the Cowboys’ downturn in the late 1980s, kept the Cowboys and the 49ers from meeting again in the playoffs in the 1980s.
That win in 1981 sparked a dynasty for the 49ers. But it was also a therapy session of sorts for long-time 49ers fans. For a three-year span in the 1970s, the late Tom Landry and his Cowboys owned the 49ers in the postseason.
The Cowboys and 49ers met for the first time in the postseason on Jan. 3, 1971, at Kezar Stadium. The Cowboys won that game, 17-10, and reached Super Bowl V, losing to the Baltimore Colts.
The next season, the pair met again on Jan. 2, 1972, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The Cowboys won, 14-3, this time at Texas Stadium. This time, the Cowboys went to Super Bowl VI and beat Miami, 24-3.
Then, the hat trick. The Cowboys went to San Francisco on Dec. 23, 1972, and beat the 49ers in a divisional playoff game, 30-28, at Candlestick Park. The Cowboys lost to Washington the following week.
Will a win on Wild Card weekend lead that team back to the Super Bowl? Only time will tell. But if history is any indication, this Cowboys-49ers game will mean something.
It always does.
You can reach Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.