- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

Cue the voice of God a k a John Facenda, the former NFL Films narrator:
Like the Greeks and Persians before them, theirs is a storied rivalry, an epic clash of iron-willed titans, each aiming for eternal supremacy on football's ultimate stage.

For more than four decades, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys have engaged in gladiatorial combat, a ferocious panoply of punishing blows, thrilling comebacks, last-second heroics and helmets set aflame
Except for tonight, of course.
Let's not mince words: The prime-time matchup between the 0-4 Redskins and the 0-4 Cowboys is, to put it mildly, a Grade-A dud.
And by dud, we don't mean those delightful, stick-in-your-teeth, chocolate-coated caramels available at most movie theaters.
In fact, if tonight's game were candy, it would taste like dish soap. If it were a sitcom, it would star Tony Danza, or possibly Dabney Coleman. If it were a film, it would be gathering dust in the Blockbuster bargain bin alongside "Shanghai Surprise," "Last Action Hero" and "3000 Miles to Graceland."
If it were a Christmas stocking stuffer, it would be socks and underwear both made of coal.
"This is the Gutter Bowl," said Redskins defensive end Kenard Lang. "We're in the gutter trying to get out to the curb."
Urban sanitation aside, is this evening's shoddy tete-a-tete simply a standard, garden-variety Monday night misfire, laughably unwatchable in a Cardinals-Patriots, pour another round and flip to "Everybody Loves Raymond" sort of way?
Or is it something less, something truly and transcendently awful, the very worst encounter in the history of Washington vs. Dallas?
We vote for the latter.
Granted, the typically top-notch Redskins-Cowboys series has known its share of stinkers, games forgotten and unloved, left on history's curb like soiled, mite-ridden old mattresses (the early 1960s and late 1980s come to mind). But even at their worst, none has reached the level of complete and total, well, bat guano promised by tonight's showdown.
"After this game, you don't want to be 0-5," said former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. "If you're 0-5, it's a very bleak looking future."
Joe: It's not just the future that's bleak. It's the here and now. And for this once-proud rivalry, it's bleaker than it's ever been.
Herein, the reasons you should get out of the house tonight or at least consider "Monday Night Smackdown!"
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Relevance

Since 1970, Washington and Dallas have combined to win eight Super Bowls. They've battled twice in the NFC Championship game. Four times, they've engaged in late-season affairs that effectively decided the NFC East.
In short: The games usually have meant something.
"There was always a lot at stake," Theismann said. "We were either going to be a division champion or a conference champion, or one of these two teams was going to the Super Bowl. That's how good these two franchises were."
This, however, is how bad they are: Both clubs are cap-strapped, depth-poor, point-challenged, rebuilding-mired and at the mercy of meddlesome owners. And did we mention winless?
Also, both teams at various points have considered Tony Banks to be an adequate solution at quarterback. Which is a lot like considering "13" to be an adequate solution to "2+2 =?"
As such, whoever loses tonight undoubtedly will be tagged as the NFL's worst team sorry, Detroit while the winner will walk away as only the league's second-sorriest outfit.
(Congratulations in advance).
Point is, there's nothing at stake not even an inside track on the first pick in next spring's draft, which will go to the expansion Houston Texans.
"What we're seeing is the economics of the game catching up with both franchises," Theismann said. "Both are going through transitions."
And forget about playoff implications. Philadelphia and New York are far and away the class of the division.
"I can think of years we struggled early, even under Coach Gibbs, and then we broke out," said former Redskins receiver Art Monk. "I'm looking for this game to be the one where this team breaks out."
We'd like that, too. But realistically? The Taliban has a better chance of surviving into January.

Entertainment value
The Redskins sport the worst offense in the NFL. The Cowboys, unencumbered by the fleeting presence of Jeff George, are one spot ahead at No. 30. Both teams are to touchdowns what dot.coms are to profits, the gridiron equivalent of Melatonin.
Our advice: Take the under.

Star power
Sonny and Staubach. Riggo and Dorsett. The Hogs and the Doomsday Defense. A rivalry is only as good as the players on the field. And Washington-Dallas has been blessed with some of the best.
"One thing that's always carried through has been the respect we've had for each other because of the great players they've had and the great teammates I was able to play with," Theismann said.
Last week Wheaties honored the rivalry with a pair of special edition boxes: One featured Theismann, Monk and former Redskins lineman Joe Jacoby; the other showcased former Cowboys Roger Staubauch, Tony Dorsett and Drew Pearson.
Tonight, however, a Geritol bottle if not a Depends box would be more appropriate. After all, the game's only surefire Hall of Famers have all seen better days.
Cowboys runner Emmitt Smith, 32, is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, the lowest mark of his career. Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, 41, has been supplanted in the starting lineup by rookie Fred Smoot. And Redskins defensive lineman Bruce Smith, 38, is out with a bad shoulder.
In essence, tonight's stars are over the hill. And not even a gang.
As for other semi-recognizable faces, they're few and far between. Cowboys receiver Rocket Ismail hasn't been a household name since he played at Notre Dame. Redskins runner Stephen Davis is a bona fide 1,000 yard-plus back but has touched the ball approximately eight times this season.
Even the coaches lack sex appeal. And, no, we're not referring to Oakland's Jon Gruden, one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful."
Sure, we'd like to crack that Dallas coach Dave Campo resembles a tire salesman but, truth be told, we couldn't pick the anonymous Campo out of a lineup featuring him, Tian Tian the panda and the cast of "Friends."
Marty Schottenheimer, by contrast, is easy to spot, thanks to his gig at ESPN. Unfortunately, he didn't have the good sense to stay there.
So what does that leave us viewers with? A whole lot of this: Donnell Bennett up the middle. Anthony Wright to Darrin Chia(not the pet)verini. And a possible cameo by Ryan Leaf.
All of which begs the question: Can Ray Romano throw a 20-yard out?

Bad blood
Unvarnished hatred long has been a Washington-Dallas calling card.
After Dallas' last-minute victory in the 1979 regular-season finale, Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin tossed a funeral wreath into the Redskins' locker room. Before a 31-10 win by Washington in 1983, the Redskins arrived at the Dallas airport dressed in military fatigues.
In the waning moments of Washington's 30-28 road victory in 1984, Dallas cornerback Ron Fellows clobbered Theismann after the Redskins' quarterback had taken a clock-killing knee, touching off a game-ending brawl.
"There was never love lost," Theismann said. "We didn't like them, and they didn't like us."
Thanks to free agency and the salary cap, however, dislike isn't what it used to be.
Former Redskins coach Norv Turner once served as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator and was a close friend of Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman. Retired cornerback Deion Sanders played for both teams. And neither sports more than a handful of players who have been around long enough to develop deep-seated animosity toward the enemy.
Case in point: Do you honestly think Redskins corner Champ Bailey wants Cowboys receiver Ken-Yon Rambo on a platter? Or that he can even distinguish between Rambo and Sylvester Stallone in shoulder pads?
Case in point No. 2: Cowboys defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban's humiliating sack-drag of George last season, which resulted in, well, nothing much.
(Imagine the ensuing fracas if that had been been Theismann. Then again, we are talking about George.)
"The players might be tempered because of the movement amongst the teams," Jacoby said. "But the towns keep it going, and the players catch on. Even if you've only been here three months, you find out your first week. The rivalry endures."
Of course. But given the Redskins' extensive ties to Schottenheimer's former Kansas City teams, we wouldn't blame them if they saved their best stuff for Denver.


Competitiveness
An easily movable object. An eminently resistible force. We admit it: The game likely will be competitive, if only because wretchedness, like Washington's passing attack, has a way of negating itself.
"I'm going to wear my Redskins sweatshirt and hat, and I'm going to root like heck," Theismann said.
Chances are, most Washington fans will do the same.
But don't say we didn't warn you.


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