Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Redskins, Cowboys Renew Long Rivalry

This Sunday, for the 92nd time, Washington and Dallas will carry out the best rivalry the NFL has ever had to offer.




When the two teams met earlier this year, on Week 2 in Dallas, Mark Brunell and Santana Moss combined for a pair of spectacular late scores that helped the Redskins to a stunning, come-from-behind 14-13 win.

With that, Brunell and Moss added their names to the long of list of players who have produced great moments in the series, led by Dallas 54-35-2 entering Sunday's contest.

The rivalry sizzled from the early-1970s to the mid-1980s, when the NFC East foes collided in one epic battle after another.

What NFL fan of the period can fail to recall Kenny Houston tackling Walt Garrison at the goal line to preserve a Redskins Monday Night victory in 1973; rookie Clint Longley throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the last seconds on Thanksgiving Day in 1974; Darryl Grant high-stepping into the end zone to secure the Redskins' NFC championship in 1982; or Darrell Green in a 1983 Monday Night game running down Tony Dorsett.

"The intensity when we played Dallas was unbelievable," says Houston, a Hall of Fame safety who played in Washington from 1973 to 1980. "If you came out of the game, and you weren't bleeding or could barely walk, you hadn't played. I wish we could have played them every game."

Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, who played during the same era, adds: "Both teams were really intense. We didn't like them, they didn't like us. But there was respect."

It's been all Redskins in the biggest matchups. In the 1982 NFC championship game, for instance, Washington manhandled the Cowboys 31-17 before defeating Miami 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII for the Redskins' first NFL title in 40 years.

Early on, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall placed a key vote opposing the entry of a Dallas franchise for fear it would upset fan interest in his Redskins through the South. The Redskins, the NFL's southern-most team, played exhibition games as far west as Texas.

After some maneuvering, Marshall capitulated and the Cowboys were born. The Redskins won the first meeting between the teams 26-14 in 1960. The Cowboys moved to the NFL's Eastern Conference in 1961, and a home-and-home series has existed ever since.

In the mid-1960s, Washington's strength was a potent aerial attack led by Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell and Jerry Smith. The Cowboys, who lost in the NFL title games to Green Bay in 1966 and 1967, featured Don Meredith, Bob Hayes and a star-studded defense.

"They had a very, very explosive passing game," Cowboys Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly once said. "Sonny was always scary. Bobby was fast. Taylor was always open. Smith was a very good receiver for a tight end. The running game wasn't that great, but with Sonny, you really didn't need a running game."

For all of that, the Cowboys won six straight times from 1968 to 1970 before the arrival of someone who would intensify the rivalry several-fold: George Allen.

Formerly coach of the Los Angeles Rams, Allen knew all about the Cowboys from when the teams scrimmaged during training camp in Southern California. He detested Dallas.

The defensive-minded Allen revamped his Redskins by acquiring a stream of savvy, tough veterans, the "Over the Hill Gang." Washington shocked the Cowboys 20-16 early in the 1971 season and made the playoffs for the first time in a quarter of a century. The eventual Super Bowl champion Cowboys won the rematch at RFK Stadium 13-0.

The teams split in the regular season in 1972 before playing each other again in the NFC championship game at RFK.

Allen, who took karate lessons, chopped board after board in a team meeting to show what he could do to a Tom Landry team. On game day, old No. 17, Billy Kilmer, played the game of his life, completing 14 of 18 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, both to Charley Taylor, in Washington's 26-3 victory.

"We were all on top of the world after that game," defensive end Ron McDole says. "That was kind of like our Super Bowl."

They split each year during Allen's reign until his final season, 1977, when Dallas swept the series before appearing in the Super Bowl for the fourth of five times in the decade.

Said former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who arrived in D.C., in 1974: "At the time, the Cowboys used the shotgun on offense and had the flex defense, and so much about them seemed cerebral. It wasn't that they were better than you, it was that they could outsmart you."

Brig Owens, the Redskins' defensive back, remembers: "The Cowboys promoted themselves at the time as America's team. But we were in the Nation's Capital. We were America's team as far as George was concerned."

Between 1979 and 1982, there were six straight Washington losses to the Cowboys. The streak would end on a cold, gray day in Washington, Jan. 22, 1983. Young coach Joe Gibbs, in his second season with the Redskins, was shaping a dynasty.

In that 1982 NFC championship game, two plays were huge. Pass-rushing specialist Dexter Manley plowed into Dallas quarterback Danny White in the second quarter and knocked him out. Manley also tipped a screen pass in the fourth quarter that defensive tackle Darryl Grant intercepted and returned 10 yards for the touchdown that locked up the 31-17 victory.

RFK Stadium, where 55,000 erupted, rocked like never before. Says Theismann: "People were just banging their feet against those aluminum seats. I felt the ground shake beneath my feet, literally."

Dec. 11, 1983, is also a key part of Redskins-Dallas lore. On that occasion, Washington dismantled the Cowboys 31-10 at Texas Stadium and psyched them out in the process. The Redskins traveled to Dallas wearing military fatigues, aiming to prove they were on a mission called the "Invasion of Dallas."

The win was the first of three straight over Dallas, the Redskins' first lengthy winning streak in the series. Later in the 1980s, Washington won four straight.

But there have been surprises out of the Cowboys, too. Dallas slipped precipitously in 1989 by finishing 1-15 under first-year coach Jimmy Johnson. But that one win came over, you guessed it, the Redskins by a 13-3 count.

Then, when the Redskins began the 1991 season 11-0 en route to their third Super Bowl win under Gibbs, Dallas snapped the streak with a 24-21 victory. The Cowboys a short time after began to win Super Bowls with such marquee players as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

Those three were feted on Sept. 19 of this year, as they entered the Cowboys' prestigious Ring of Honor. But, as we now are well aware, Brunell, Moss and the Redskins put something of a damper on the evening for Cowboys fans. Washington rallied to win the Monday Nighter 14-13.

That's how it goes in this rivalry.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.