Though both teams aren't quite where they were in the 1990s, I am creating this slide show to re-visit and highlight some of the key moments and happenings in this once-great rivalry which, in the past, has decided NFC championship games.
To some, this rivalry is nothing more than another game in a grueling NFL schedule. To others, though, this rivalry is a reminder of when these teams terrorized the NFC and the league as a whole with some great offensive firepower, and mostly some great games that will never be forgotten.
This is the image in the 1981 NFC Championship game that Cowboys fans would rather not re-live, but I figured it was monumental in the re-visiting of the rivalry between these teams.
In this particular scene, it was the 4th quarter of the 1981 NFC Championship game in which the 49ers were trailing the Cowboys 27-21.
The 49ers had a drive going and were at the Cowboys' six-yard line. Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone on a miraculous play that was more desperation than design.
The withering pass rush from the Cowboys' defense had been chasing Montana the entire game. This play was no different, as the Cowboys' defensive line had collapsed the protection of the 49ers' offensive line, and had chased Montana all over the field.
The play was designed to go to 49ers WR Freddie Solomon. The 49ers had scored in the first quarter of the game on the exact same play, "Sprint Right Option".
Desperation caused Montana to float the ball into the back of the end zone toward Clark, and hope he could somehow come up with the game-winning touchdown catch that would avenge lopsided regular season losses to the Cowboys.
Clark, out of a sheer miracle, pulled down the high floater from Montana even with Cowboys DB Everson Walls pretty much blanketing the tight end on the play.
The touchdown sealed the 49ers' win, and their trip to Super Bowl XVI. They would go on to beat the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals led by QB Ken Anderson and deep threat WR Cris Collinsworth by the score of 26-21.
The Cowboys, after the heartbreaking loss, would go on to advance to the conference title game the very next year against the Washington Redskins. They lost that contest by a score of 31-17, in which QB Danny White was knocked out of the game after a hit by Redskins DE Dexter Manley.
The Cowboys wouldn't reach the NFC Championship game again until 1992. This marked the beginning of the dynasty of the 1990s, in which the Cowboys became the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years.
Special thanks to Hip 2 Da Game: Famous Finishes for the image!
This game at a muddy Candlestick Park saw the resurgent Cowboys, taking on the 14-2 San Francisco 49ers in the Cowboys' first NFC title game since suffering a lopsided loss in the 1982 NFC Championship game against the Washington Redskins. Troy Aikman and Co. got the best of the 49ers on this occasion by a score of 30-20, with 10 of the Cowboys' points coming off of 49ers' turnovers.
The above picture shows San Francisco RB Ricky Watters fumbling the ball and members of the Cowboys defense swarming to the ball in the 1993 NFC Championship game.
The Cowboys defeated the 49ers in this game 38-21, after jumping out to a 28-7 lead on touchdowns on four of their first five possessions.
The Cowboys would go on to face the Buffalo Bills for the second straight year in Super Bowl XXVIII.
This NFC title game clash at Candlestick Park in 1994 marked the third consecutive season that the Cowboys and 49ers met for the NFC title. This time, it was to decide who would go on to face the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
The Cowboys were coming off two straight Super Bowl victories over the Buffalo Bills (who had become the first team to win four consecutive AFC title games, and go on to lose the Super Bowl four consecutive times). They had met the 49ers twice previously in the NFC title game, in 1992 and 1993, and came away with victories in both contests.
San Francisco won this day by a score of 38-28, denying the Troy Aikman-led Cowboys an unprecedented shot at a third straight Super Bowl victory. Some began to question whether the 49ers had finally gotten the best of the Cowboys after two conference title game losses in previous campaigns.
Special thanks to http://static.nfl.com/static/content/catch_all/nfl_image/d_sanders_950115_640.jpg for the image!
The above scene is in Super Bowl XXX, when the Cowboys won their third Super Bowl in four years, a feat matched by the New England Patriots in 2004, and also tying the 49ers with five Super Bowl victories, a feat only eclipsed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cowboys cemented their place as the dynasty of the 1990s led by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, fondly known as "The Triplets" to Cowboys fans and NFL fans alike.