It’s Dallas week again.
Washington coach Norv Turner might be a former Dallas assistant and the Redskins’ most famous player, cornerback Deion Sanders, might be best known as a Cowboy, but the rivalry still persists.
It was after the loss at Texas Stadium last year that new Redskins owner Dan Snyder kept the media out of the locker room while he chewed out his coach. This week’s game will be the 11th televised nationally by ABC. No other rivalry has been shown as often on Monday Night Football.
Calvin Hill, a running back for both teams, said the rivalry happened because it summoned memories of the Cowboys vs. Indians battles fought on the Great Plains while also symbolizing the conflict between the emerging Sunbelt and the East Coast’s power center.
But most participants in the semi-annual wars haven’t thought nearly so deeply about their meaning. They just hated the other guys.
Former Washington defensive tackle Diron Talbert, a native Texan, once said he would rather have his arm cut off than lose to Dallas. Longtime Cowboys safety Cliff Harris termed the rivalry, “a wonderful hate relationship.” And ex-Redskins coach George Allen, the man most responsible for fueling the bitterness between the teams, wouldn’t even utter the word Dallas. He called Washington defensive end Dallas Hickman “Dulles” or “Berkeley,” Hickman’s alma mater.
After the Cowboys rallied to stun the Redskins 35-34 to win the 1979 NFC East title and keep Washington out of the playoffs, Dallas defensive end Harvey Martin threw a funeral wreath into the visitors’ locker room in the middle of the postgame prayer. It was easy to understand Redskins offensive tackle Joe Jacoby’s sentiments: “You just despised that team.”
I should know. I grew up a passionate Redskins fan. I tore my bedroom apart when Clint Longley briefly emerged from obscurity to quarterback Dallas past Washington on Thanksgiving Day in 1974. I was cheering at RFK Stadium when the Redskins pounded the Cowboys in the 1972 and 1982 NFC Championship games. And I co-authored “America’s Rivalry,” a book that told the story of the Redskins vs. the Cowboys.
But I now believe the rivalry was a mistake. Not because I turned 40 this year. Not because I now see the rivalry as an NFL writer instead of as a Redskins’ beat writer. No, I simply look back at the history of the rivalry and see all the heartache that Washington fans suffered unnecessarily.
Dallas has won 15 of the 30 NFC East titles to Washington’s seven. But what would have happened if, when the NFL added Dallas and Minnesota in 1960, the league switched Baltimore to the Eastern Conference where it belonged and put the Cowboys out West?
Or how about when the league realigned in 1970? The Redskins, coming off their first winning season in 14 years, weren’t a real rival to the Cowboys, who had won four straight division titles. Atlanta, which made sense geographically, could have switched with Dallas then?
The Cowboys suffered just six losing seasons during the past 30 years, made the playoffs 22 times, won those 15 NFC East titles and won five Super Bowls. Meanwhile, the Falcons enjoyed just six winning seasons, made the playoffs only five times and won but two NFC West titles (in 1980 and 1998, when they reached their lone Super Bowl).
Think about the Redskins. They missed the playoffs with records of 10-6 (1979, 1985 and 1989) while going 2-4 against the Cowboys during those seasons. Washington went 9-5 in 1977 and lost the final playoff spot on a tiebreaker after losing twice to Dallas. The Redskins were 8-8 in 1978, but their loss to the Super Bowl champion Cowboys kept them from tying for the final playoff berth. The same thing happened in 1981 except Dallas won both matchups. And the losses to the Cowboys in 1996 and 1997 might have kept the Redskins, who finished 9-7 and 8-7-1 those years, out of postseason.
In the 61 meetings since the NFC East was established, Dallas has won 35, Washington 26. In contrast, Washington has won 12 of its 16 games against Atlanta.
The NFL will realign into eight divisions of four teams when Houston becomes the 32nd franchise in 2002. Most plans, if not all, keep Dallas in the NFC East with Arizona moving to the NFC West. But Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill doesn’t want to lose his annual Dallas sellout. Give it to him as the price for switching. Ship the Cowboys out West along with the Cardinals and bring the Falcons, who will have to change divisions anyway, back East where they belong.
Who says Washingtonians can’t easily transfer their hate to the Redskins’ longtime rivals, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles? And the black-clad Falcons can certainly make me as sick as peanuts, the leading product of their home state, already do.