Cowboys-Redskins 100th Game

staubach-redskinsSunday night’s contest between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will mark a milestone in one of the great rivalries in sports.

Cowboys-Redskins, Edition No. 100 takes place Sunday night, appropriately enough in prime time. The Cowboys (9-5) hope to be in position to clinch a playoff berth, while the Redskins (4-10) are playing out the string for lame duck coach Jim Zorn.

The cold numbers say the Cowboys lead the series 58-39-2, although both playoff meetings were won by the Redskins. Emotionally, players and fans say there’s nothing like it, especially in Washington, where the rivalry has always been taken more seriously than in Dallas.

“The only one that’s probably in that same class is Bears-Packers, just because it’s forever,” [new Redskins GM] Bruce Allen said. “It’s Cowboys and Indians. For so long, these franchises, every game is meaningful. It’s a great rivalry for the NFL.”

It’s timely that the game comes less than two weeks after Allen was hired by the Redskins. After all, it was his father’s scorn for stoic counterpart Tom Landry and the team from Texas that stoked a passion that still burns decades later.

“It was George Allen, who didn’t believe in the draft, vs. the Cowboys, who believed in the draft,” longtime NFL running back Calvin Hill said. “It was over-the-hill players against players who were young. It was two coaches who were diametrically opposed; one was very reserved and one was very emotional.  “I think George actually made an effort to create a focus and a goal – we have to get through Dallas. So he ratcheted up that whole thing. ‘You’ve got to hate Dallas.”‘

Hill has a unique perspective, having played for both teams – and thus both Hall of Fame coaches – during the 1970s.

“I remember George came into the Dallas week and he said he just wished he could meet Tom Landry on the 50-yard line, just him and Tom, and they could fight it out,” Hill said. “He started talking about what he’d do to Tom. This was during the week, a speech to the team. He was saying all this that he’d do to Tom, blah-blah-blah. Then he dismissed the meeting. I remember I was walking down the stairs and Larry Brown said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘You know, Tom Landry’s in pretty good shape.”‘

Both men are gone now but, yes, I believe my money would have been on Landry in that one.

I’d been a token fan of the Cowboys for a couple of years, rooting for them in consecutive Super Bowls, but didn’t really start watching seriously until the 1979 season, when we returned from a three-year stint in Germany and my dad was assigned to Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas.   I watched every Cowboys game that season, along with most Houston Oilers games.  The season-ending game that year was one of the most memorable:  Roger Staubach led the Cowboys to two late touchdowns to seal a 35-34 comeback victory.  It turned out to be  Staubach’s last regular season game; he retired after the season.

Having moved to the Washington area in 2002, I’ve been surprised by two things.  First, there are a ridiculous number of Cowboys fans here.  While Redskins paraphernalia no doubt predominates, Dallas gear comes in a distant second.  And, yes, Redskins fans look forward to the two meetings with the Cowboys much moreso than vice-versa.

For Dallas fans, the Redskins rivalry is the most long-running.  But there have been long streaks where the Philadelphia Eagles were the team we most wanted to beat.   It was hard to really hate the Joe Gibbs era Redskins; not so much the Buddy Ryan Eagles.  During the 1990s, the non-division Packers and 49ers were probably bigger foes, in that we always seemed to meet in the playoffs.  And, in recent years, both the New York Giants and the Eagles have been more significant obstacles.

Ultimately, though, Cap’n Blueblood is right:  Rivalries in professional sports just aren’t quite what they used to be.

Then, there is that thing that has diluted all NFL rivalries: namely, Free Agency. Gone are the days when players spent their entire careers with the same team and played twice per year against the same divisional rivals. The players and coaches could really build up some animosity.

Not now. It’s just laundry. You play against the same uniforms every year (well, sort of; they are subject to frequent changes, too), but not the same team.

It isn’t just a problem of player movement, though. It is also the coaching carousel. The Cowboys had one coach patrolling the sideline for 28 years. In the last twenty years, they have had six. Not even the coaches have enough time to get really tired of losing to the same team every year.

There’s little question that the rivalries mean less than the players and coaches than they did 20 or 30 years ago.  But those of us who have 40, 50, 60, or more of the games under our belts still care.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Our Paul says:

    Allow me to break into this thread to wish Dr. James Joiner a super Holiday with the usual all the best etc… There is little other than good health one can wish for a man who has a beautiful and smart wife, a baby daughter who is just starting to walk, and a one and half inch T-Bone sizzling on the grill.

    The sole exception in this spirit of peace and good cheer in his Universe remains the odious and heinous Dallas Cowboys who stand in the way of the magnificent Men in Blue achieving a play off berth.

    Similar wishes to his associate blogegrs Dave Schuler, Alex Knapp and Steve Verdon. Together with Dr. Joiner, they have tickled the brain cells and expanded my Universe.

    I would like to share these greetings and sentiment with the all correspondents to this blog. I admire and at times stand in awe as they with bounty of grace and bonhomous attempt to correct some of Dr. Joiner or one of his Associates blog posting. The screaming, skewering, and blood letting that on occasion may follow between correspondents warms this warrior’s soul — the gladiator gene still lives.

    Cross posted to all of today’s threads.

  2. Triumph says:

    one of the great rivalries in sports.

    I understand that you’re a Cowboys fan, but come on–this is hardly even one of the longest rivalries in the NFL, let alone sports.

    The Cowboys are a relative newcomer, having only been in the league since 1960.

    The Redskins have a longer rivalry with the Eagles and the Giants, for crying out loud.

    I would say that Bears-Packers, Giants-Eagles, Bears-Cardinals are probably more storied than the Cowboys-Redskins, if you look at the historical trajectory of the matchups.

    The Cowboys simply haven’t been around long enough.

  3. James Joyner says:

    I would say that Bears-Packers, Giants-Eagles, Bears-Cardinals are probably more storied than the Cowboys-Redskins, if you look at the historical trajectory of the matchups.

    The problem is that most of those teams have not been very good in the Super Bowl era — the point at which the NFL became the country’s most popular spectator sport. The Cowboys and Redskins knocked each other out of championship contention for years.

    It’s true that, since the mid-1990s, both teams have been pretty mediocre. Look at the TV ratings when those matchups are on, though, and you’ll see that they skyrocket.