- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

It used to be the talk of the town, with signs decorating office buildings and suburban lawns and a steady drumbeat of anticipation leading up to Sunday or Monday, when the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys would meet in the NFL’s most intense rivalry.

“Everyone let you know it was Dallas Week,” former Redskins tight end Doc Walker said.

Now look at Dallas Week. Three days before the game the hot topic remains Redskins coach Joe Gibbs’ swift and curious benching of Patrick Ramsey.

Maybe the allure of Redskins-Cowboys at Texas Stadium on “Monday Night Football” would be greater if the game were all there was to talk about instead of quarterback issues. Or maybe not. Perhaps the game no longer is enough and the rivalry is finished, done, kaput. Or as John Riggins put it, “moribund.”

“Rivalries are created and perpetuated,” the ex-Redskins running back said. “This rivalry was created, but it has ceased to be perpetuated.”

“I think the rivalry is kind of on hold,” said John Madden, who will call Monday’s game on ABC with Al Michaels and who probably has worked more Redskins-Cowboys games through the years than any other. “I’ve always felt that rivalries have to be activated by both teams being good. If one team is down or both teams are down, the rivalry kind of lies dormant for a while.”

There is still passion, as evidenced when Gibbs, obviously kidding and perhaps trying to fan some rivalry embers, called Dallas fans “the ugliest people in the world” last month. Predictably, it ticked off a lot of folks. Even without that, they will be going crazy inside Texas Stadium, and Redskins fans still despise the Cowboys above all else.

Then again, Gibbs’ NASCAR racing team recently agreed to lend equipment and technology to another team, which is nice and brotherly and all that, except the team happens to be headed by former Dallas quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. Sure, it’s just business, and racing isn’t football, but it still prompts at least consideration of what the world is coming to.

With no geography to fall back on like Green Bay-Chicago and Pittsburgh-Cleveland, what the rivalry has come to is something less bitter, competitive and, ultimately, interesting than it used to be. Neither team has been good. And yet, one always beats the other. For most of the decade, the Cowboys have owned the Redskins.

“How can you call something a rivalry when Dallas has won 14 of the last 15 games [between the teams]?” said Redskins broadcaster and former linebacker Sam Huff, echoing a question asked many times during the last couple of years, only with different numbers.

With every Redskins defeat, the answer becomes increasingly clear.

“I’ve said to people, in order to have a great rivalry you’ve got to have two teams that are, you know, beating each other,” Gibbs said this week. “And it’s been one-sided. … Certainly we haven’t been doing our part.”

Said Redskins offensive tackle Chris Samuels: “It’s a miserable feeling, knowing those guys have been dominating us for so long.”

One-sidedness can kill a rivalry or destroy a budding one. Some want to call Andy Roddick and Roger Federer tennis rivals, but Roddick never wins. So what about the universally agreed upon best rivalry in sports? Until last year, the New York Yankees always were doing mean and terrible things to the Boston Red Sox. But there was a catch. The so-called Curse of the Bambino kept the rivalry alive.

The Redskins and Cowboys have nothing like that. They are curseless (and some might say clueless given recent performances). The Redskins hiring Cowboys assistant Norv Turner as coach in 1994? Nice try. The football gods merely chuckled at that one. The only curse was that of mediocre football. So all that’s left is the simple fact of domination for no tangible reason. As bad as the Redskins have been lately, the Cowboys have not been much better.

The only Redskins coach to orchestrate a win over Dallas since Oct. 13, 1997, is none other than Steve Spurrier in the last game of the 2002 season, when the Redskins won 20-14 at FedEx Field to snap a 10-game skid to the Cowboys. Beating Dallas was pretty much the only goal Spurrier achieved here. By the next season, his second and last, it was back to business. The Redskins twice lost to Dallas, including a 27-0 defeat at FedEx.

During Gibbs’ first coaching spin, 1981 through 1992, the Redskins lost the first three games and four of the first five with Dallas before settling the score. Gibbs finished 12-12 against the Cowboys. But extra credit should be given for at least two of the victories. In 1982, the Redskins beat Dallas in the NFC Championship game, and in 1987, the strike year, Washington won with replacement players against a Cowboys team comprised mostly of veterans.

Those were the days, on and off the field.

“We were so lucky to see this town become nonpartisan,” Walker said. “No political differences, no racial differences. Everybody, 1,000 percent, hated Dallas. It was an overwhelming aura.”

Last season, Gibbs and the Redskins suffered a pair of agonizing losses, 21-18 and 13-10.

But it goes beyond the Cowboys always winning. Once, when both teams were special, every game was big.

“There was a time when the team that won the game would usually win the division,” Madden said. That time seems long ago and far away.

The origins of the rivalry have been debated. It might have taken root from the start, when Dallas joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1960. Before that, the Redskins were the southernmost team in the league; now their turf was being invaded. In the years that followed, when Huff fought with Dallas tight end Pettis Norman and got ejected in 1965 or when Huff knocked quarterback Don Meredith out of a game the next season, the intensity picked up.

But George Allen kicked the rivalry, and the Redskins, to another level. Arriving in 1971 as coach, Allen with manic zeal attempted (and succeeded to an extent) to displace Dallas as top dog in the NFC. Game on. Then in the 1980s, it was the Cowboys trying to do the same to the Gibbs-led Redskins. In the early 1990s, both teams were good. Then Gibbs left.

Also, before free agency, personalities remained constant. Familiarity bred contempt, and the animosity was real. A tough Redskins loss, such as in 1979 when the Cowboys staged a miracle comeback, would lead to payback time. Players disliked one another, and so did the coaches.

Allen told his players he would like to fight Dallas coach Tom Landry at the 50-yard line (Landry, a tough ex-safety, would have mopped the field with Allen). Even the usually stoic Landry got in the spirit, saying he could outrun Redskins safety Mark Murphy.

It was Allen and then Gibbs vs. Landry in a battle of coaching wits. The players had their own battles, too. Can Pat Fischer cover Bob Hayes? What will happen when Riggins and Randy White collide? Now players come and go, and so do the coaches. Absent a curse, it’s possible the day the rivalry died came when Turner went to the Redskins.

“He was in their camp the year before. He was going back to play his friends,” Riggins said, sounding as if it were a treasonous act.

Maybe it was.

“I would never hire anybody from Dallas,” Walker said. “I wouldn’t even have a player who was born in Texas.”

Turner lasted for most of seven seasons until he was fired with three games left in 2000. His replacement, interim coach Terry Robiskie, got to coach against the Cowboys. So did Marty Schottenheimer, Spurrier and Gibbs again. Five years, five coaches. Meanwhile in Dallas, Landry (the only coach the Cowboys had from their birth through 1988) was followed in quick succession by Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and Bill Parcells.

“It’s hard to have a rivalry when you have no consistency with the staff,” Walker said.

This is Parcells’ third year and Gibbs’ second. Parcells is a future Hall of Famer, Gibbs is there already and maybe that will help kick-start this thing.

“It’s Parcells and Gibbs,” Madden said, “and it’s still the Redskins and the Cowboys.”

A rivalry on hold.

Staff writer David Elfin contributed to this article.

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