When the Redskins walk out onto Texas Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the blue star at the center of the field staring them straight in the eyeballs, they'll have plenty of bad memories to overcome.
First and foremost, there's Dallas's dominance in the long-time rivalry. Not only have the Cowboys won 13 of the last 14 games in the series, they have won eight consecutive and 11 of the last 12 at Texas Stadium.
In recent history, there have been mostly forgettable moments at Texas Stadium. In 2000, ex-Redskins quarterback Jeff George getting dragged by Ebenezer Ekuban after a sack amid a 32-13 drubbing. A year later, Stephen Davis's inopportune fumble in the fourth quarter led to the Redskins losing 9-7. Last year, Patrick Ramsey was pressured relentlessly by an aggressive Cowboys defense as the Redskins lost 21-14.
It has been mentioned that the Redskins, 1-4 in the NFC East this season and 3-15 in the last three seasons, have lacked intensity in divisional games in recent years.
Whether true or not, that perception may have changed this month when the Redskins handily defeated the New York Giants 31-7 and went toe-to-toe with NFC East division winner Philadelphia, nearly pulling off a stunning upset.
The real test, though, comes this Sunday in Dallas against the team's top rival.
During his first tenure as Redskins head coach, Joe Gibbs was 6-5 at Texas Stadium. Perhaps more importantly, Gibbs understands the intensity of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry and can impart it to his charges.
"Dallas has always been a big deal here," Gibbs said this week.
For now, the Redskins' record against Dallas and at Texas Stadium is enough motivation.
"We'd like to play well against them and we haven't," Gibbs said. "It's hard to have a rivalry when one team is winning all the games. We have to find a way to get that turned around."
Gibbs and the Redskins weren't able to turn around their fortunes against Dallas in Week 3 this season. In a Monday Night contest at FedExField, the Cowboys defeated the Redskins 21-18.
There were moments when the intensity of the rivalry reared its head. At one point, following a Dallas interception that was eventually overturned by instant replay, both offensive units were on the field at the same time, separated by nearly 50 yards. It was as if neither unit would leave the field until replay officials told them to do so.
Dallas scored first and would lead the entire game, fending off a furious Redskins rally. The Cowboys' initial touchdown was set up by a questionable 40-yard pass interference penalty on Walt Harris. On a 3rd-and-7, Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde had thrown a deep pass to wide receiver Terry Glenn, and Harris and Glenn appeared to get tangled in the end zone as both went for the ball. The referee tagged Harris with the infraction.
In another key series of events, later in the first half, Dallas's defense stuffed Mark Brunell and the Redskins on a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Washington was forced to settle for a field goal.
In the second half, the Cowboys would go ahead 21-10 on a halfback option touchdown pass. Testaverde pitched the ball to fullback Richie Anderson, who lofted a 26-yard pass to Glenn. The wide receiver just barely managed to get both feet in bounds for the score.
Washington struck back in the fourth quarter, as Brunell found Rod Gardner in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion made it 21-18 with less than four minutes to play.
The Redskins had one last-ditch effort to get into position for a game-tying field goal. With 13 seconds left, Gardner hauled in a 46-yard pass to the Cowboys' 21-yard line, but he was tackled in bounds by safety Roy Williams and the clock ran out on the Redskins.
Thirteen weeks later, Washington and Dallas renew their rivalry.
It's Gibbs vs. Bill Parcells once more.
The Cowboys are sticking with Testaverde as their starting quarterback, although backup Tony Romo could see action. Meantime, the Redskins made a quarterback switch to Patrick Ramsey in Week 11 and have won two of their last three.
Both teams are 5-9 and--remarkably so, given their records--remain alive for a playoff berth.
Those are some of the subplots. In the larger picture, the Redskins aim to reverse their fortunes against a Dallas franchise that has had its number at Texas Stadium since...well, when Gibbs initially retired in 1992.