- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I have to admit, trying to write a column after a tough loss like Sunday’s is hard to do.

As much as I want to crack jokes and work in “Seinfeld” lines, I just can’t get myself in the right mind-set. I can’t stop replaying last week’s game over and over in my head, wondering whether there was anything I could have done differently to help my team win.

The only thing worse than losing a tough game is losing a tough game on the road. It makes that plane ride home incredibly long. It seems like you’re circling the airport for days, even when it’s only five minutes.

After a loss, you spend all night Sunday replaying the game yourself. And then you spend all day Monday with your teammates figuring out ways to improve as a team. But once you get home and turn on “Monday Night Football,” it’s a new week.

We walked into Redskin Park yesterday morning knowing we’ve got a new opponent to prepare for. Although it doesn’t erase the memory of the loss, it gives you a sense of a new beginning, a new week to prove yourself as a player and to prove yourself as a team.

And what better way to do that than against the Cowboys, in one of the biggest rivalries in sports, on “Monday Night Football”?

That’s what I’d like to write about this week: rivalries in sports. And in these parts, I know there’s no bigger rivalry than Redskins-Cowboys.

I’ll bet you could ask any Redskins fan about a great play in team history, and they may not remember it. But I guarantee you they remember every single detail about every Redskins-Cowboys game. That’s what makes our rivalry so special, and that’s what makes the NFC East so special. Every game in this division is a rivalry game: Redskins-Giants, Redskins-Eagles, Cowboys-Giants. There’s some great history there.

It’s such a privilege for players to be involved in such a historic division. Every game is memorable. Every game seems to count for more than your average football game.

Great plays are great plays. You can make a great catch or a great tackle on any given Sunday. But if you make a great play in a rivalry game, it’s so much bigger. It will be remembered forever because those games are remembered forever.

I grew up in Chicago watching the Bears and Packers play, and it didn’t matter what their records were. It didn’t matter what time of year it was — it could have been a meaningless game at the end of the year. But it always seemed like those guys were playing as if it were a championship game.

I’ve seen plenty of Bears-Packers games in person, but the one I remember most came during my senior year in high school. The two teams played each other at Soldier Field on Halloween night, and the weather was just awful. Rain, sleet, wind — you name it, my friends and I experienced it all that night. Because it was Halloween, I was all dressed up as a vampire. But about five minutes into the game, I had no paint left on my face because it was pouring and sleeting.

The Bears lost that game (Brett Favre just killed them), and it was amazing how much it affected the entire city of Chicago. The whole week there was just a somber mood all around town. People didn’t talk about the game, but you better believe they knew what happened. They were just so disappointed that they couldn’t gather themselves to talk about it.

A few years later, I found myself in a pretty awkward situation: playing in a Bears-Packers game … for Green Bay, the team I couldn’t stand growing up. It was so surreal. Everyone I knew (except for my family), told me, “I hope you play well, and I hope you stay healthy. But I hope you lose.”

When you hear that, you can’t believe it. For the first time in your life, your friends are cheering against you. It’s an odd situation.

But that’s what makes these rivalry games stand out. They’re so important to the players and to the fans.

Having only recently moved to Washington, I never really had a full appreciation for the magnitude of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. Then a few weeks ago, I heard it.

It was late during one of our preseason games, and there was a lull in the action on the field. All of a sudden, the entire crowd at FedEx Field started chanting as one: “We want Dallas! We want Dallas!”

Do you think this city is ready?

Ask Matt

Q: How long have you been a safety? Did you play any other positions growing up?

A: I was a quarterback in high school, and I actually was recruited by Iowa as a quarterback. But after a couple of weeks experiencing what it was like to be a scout team quarterback at a Big Ten university, I went home every night wishing I played a different position. Thankfully, I got the opportunity to move over to the other side of the ball, so I could go after the quarterback the same way all those other guys had gone after me.

Q: I see you’re a Cubs fan. What’s your most memorable Cubs moment?

A: When Leon Durham let that ground ball go through his legs in the 1984 playoffs, I went upstairs and cried for so long my mom had to come upstairs and tell me she made my favorite dinner to console me.

Staff writer Mark Zuckerman collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them to [email protected]

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