There was a time when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins comprised one of the NFL's fiercest and most notable rivalries. All of the cliches about "throw the records out the window when these two hook up" really did apply.
There was no love lost between the teams. Cowboys players like Staubach and Lilly really did despise those Redskins. The coaches didn't like them either. And the feeling was mutual. It was, most fans thought, a rivalry for the ages.
Great stories exist between the two franchises, stories that date back to the very birth of the Dallas Cowboys. While original Cowboys' owner Clint Murchison was trying to bring the NFL to Dallas, he bought the rights to the Redskins' anthem, "Hail to the Redskins." Murchison threatened to prevent the Redskins from using the song unless Redskins' owner, George Preston Marshall agreed to back Murchison's bid to land an NFL franchise. Marshall agreed to back the bid and Murchison returned the rights to the song to Marshall.
Then there was the flap over the original NFL "spy gate." Before George Allen became the head coach of the Redskins, he was with the Los Angeles Rams. Dallas Cowboys' General manager Tex Schramm claimed that Allen had sent his head scout to spy on a Cowboys' practice. Schramm even filed an official complaint with the league that never went anywhere.
The unflappable Allen countered by claiming they had spotted Cowboys' scout Frank "Bucko" Kilroy spying on their practice from the limb of a Eucalyptus tree. Kilroy was a 300 pounder. It was a good joke on Schramm and his Cowboys and it would later serve to fuel the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry when Allen was named the 'Skins head coach.
Then there was those classic games. From Clint Longley's incredible comeback victory over the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, 1974 to Staubach's miraculous fourth quarter comeback victory in 1979 (final score: 35-34), Cowboys fans have many fond memories of this storied rivalry.
But so do Redskins' fans. In the 1972 NFC Championship Game, the Redskins defeated the Cowboys, earning the right to play Miami in the Super Bowl. The Redskins would win their first Lombardi trophy that year.
The two teams have combined for 31 NFC East division titles and eight Super Bowl victories. Yes, it is a rivalry for the ages.
Or is it?
These days, it seems it is mostly just a rivalry for the aged. Only those fans with enough snow on the roof to remember the glories of the '60s, '70s, and '80s can really appreciate the significance of Cowboys-Redskins.
For the Dallas Cowboys fan, the Redskins today are but a blip on the radar. Much more angst and ire are reserved for the hated Filthadelphia Eagles and the New York Giant-Pains-In-The-Arse. Those teams, year in and year out, represent a genuine threat to ruin any Cowboys' hopes of winning the division.
The reason for the shift, one might think, is simple enough. The two teams just aren't what they were. Neither the Cowboys nor the Redskins have fielded legitimate Super Bowl contending teams in a decade or more. When one has been decent, the other has been horrid. Just simple math.
Mere win-loss records, however, are not enough by themselves to shoot a good rivalry in the foot. It takes more. And we got it.
For the Cowboys fan, the trouble started when the Redskins hired Joe Gibbs. Here is the likable, upstanding, Christian coach who does everything the right way and never stirs the pot of controversy with ridiculous claims or incendiary remarks. Now, how is the Cowboy nation supposed to hate a man who reminds them so much of their beloved Tom Landry?
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 20 years, they have had six. Not even the coaches have enough time to get really tired of losing to the same team every year.
So, when the Cowboys and Redskins line up against each other today, it won't be to renew a rivalry. They will just be getting acquainted.