On Sunday, the NFL's most historic rivalry resumes.
Great sports rivalries don't need the participating teams to be relevant. They thrive on antipathy.
In a great rivalry, it doesn't matter if one or both teams are out of playoff contention—they will prepare as if they are about to play in the Super Bowl, and on Sunday they will seek to humiliate one another at all costs.
Dallas-Washington is a great football rivalry. Unlike most NFL rivalries, which are ephemeral, born when two teams reach prominence at the same time—Chicago v. San Francisco in the 1980s, St. Louis v. Tampa Bay in the 2000s—Dallas-Washington has stood the test of time. The two cities could not be more different; both teams have always despised each other; even the team names—Cowboys and Redskins—suggest this clash extends beyond the football field.
On Sunday, that rivalry continues when the Cowboys come to Washington for the teams' second meeting of the season. In the first, Dallas prevailed, and since that game, Washington has seen its season implode amidst an odd quarterback situation and a slew of injuries. The Redskins have only pride to play for on Sunday, and while beating the Cowboys won't make fans forget about another season lost, it will make the offseason a bit more bearable.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, have gotten their house in order after an inconsistent start and are flying under the radar. If Jerry Jones' team can continue to improve, they could make some noise come playoff time.
Sports Illustrated and Grantland.com are two sports publications that have named Dallas-Washington as the greatest NFL rivalry ever, and while Redskins fans have had little to cheer about over the past decade and a half, some of the team's most memorable and satisfying victories have come against their hated arch rivals.
To commemorate the latest installation of this gridiron grudge match, here are Washington's six most memorable moments in the rivalry's history.
Joe Gibbs is one of the four greatest coaches in NFL history.
Don't believe me? When Gibbs retired after the 1992 season his stat line read like this: three Super Bowl Championships, four Super Bowl appearances and a postseason winning percentage of 76. That last stat is the most astonishing: It's five percentage points higher than Bill Belichick's current postseason winning percentage.
And unlike most iconic NFL coaches, Gibbs never had the luxury of coaching a franchise quarterback. Lombardi had Starr, Noll had Bradshaw and Belichick has Brady. Gibbs, on the other hand, turned Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien into all-pro players. His offensive system was so efficient that he never needed a single star quarterback to take the snaps and make all the plays.
Any way you slice it, Gibbs deserves to be on the Mt. Rushmore of NFL coaches,* yet he never seems to receive as much press as his old rival Bill Parcells.
The reason for this is simple: The loutish, in-your-face Parcells more closely resembles the archetype of a professional football coach than Gibbs, whose laid-back demeanor is something you'd more likely find in someone who teaches typewriter maintenance at a local community college.
Throughout the 1980s, Gibbs and Parcells clashed as coaches of the Redskins and New York Giants. The two were serendipitously reunited in the 2000s, when the wanderlust Parcells landed in Dallas while Gibbs reunited with the Redskins.
In the second stage of their rivalry, the two coaching icons—both of whom at that point looked like they should have been reading Thomas the Tank Engine books to their grandchildren rather than leading a bunch of violence prone 20- and 30-year-olds—split their teams' six meetings, but the most decisive victory went to Gibbs.
Late in the 2005 season, the Redskins offense was finally overcoming its early struggles and beginning to look like the one Gibbs orchestrated throughout the 1980s. In Week 15, the Cowboys traveled to Washington and met a team clicking on all cylinders.
At one point the Redskins lead 35-0, and the telecast was punctuated with shots of Parcells, standing on the sideline sporting a forlorn look that made you think he wanted to be anywhere else in the world. It was a fitting reminder that for all the attention Parcells garners, he will never reach the level of coaching genius of his less media hungry rival.
*George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs. This analogy works well because in it, Gibbs is akin to Teddy Roosevelt, someone with whom most people are not that familiar but who nevertheless belongs in the conversation.
Remember that extremely mediocre yet somewhat watchable Keanu Reeves movie The Replacements?* As it turns out, it was based off a famous game in the Dallas-Washington rivalry.
During the 1987 strike, the Cowboys had a slew of players, including hall of fame running back Tony Dorsett, cross the picket line and rejoin the team, and this influx of real talent helped the Cowboys achieve a 2-0 record heading into a Monday Night matchup against the Redskins.
Joe Gibbs' squad was made up entirely of replacement players, yet the team found a way to upset the Cowboys, 13-7. Under Gibbs, the Redskins replacement squad finished 3-0, and after their victory against Dallas Gibbs told the press it was "one of my greatest experiences and wins."
*One thing that's always bugged me about that movie is that Gene Hackman, who plays the coach of the Washington Senators, sports a wardrobe that resembles famous ex-Cowboys coach Tom Landry's garb of choice: a hat and overcoat. This makes no sense whatsoever. He should have played the character to resemble Gibbs, but, surprise surprise, he went for a figure who is more popular. Man up Hackman!
In 1983 the Redskins were still looking for the franchise's first Super Bowl title, while the Cowboys had two Lombardi trophies of their own. Though no one would ever admit to it in public, Redskins fans felt their team was somewhat inadequate when compared to its arch rival.
So it was only fitting that the road to the Redskins' first Super Bowl title required the team to meet the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game, which was played in front of raucous crowd at old RFK stadium.
One of the features that made RFK such a venerable Washington institution was that its stands would shake—they would literally move up and down—whenever fans were on their feet, cheering on their team. You could find more personality in one row of bleachers at RFK then you can find throughout the entirety of Fed Ex Field.
People who attended that game swear the stands were shaking all night, from the pregame chants of "We Want Dallas" to Darryl Grant's game sealing pick six. That victory marked the beginning of the Redskins most successful decade.
Tom Osborne played for the Redskins back in 1960, when the team's rivalry with Dallas commenced.
All rivalries have to start somewhere. This one started in 1960 at old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C.
The Redskins met the Cowboys in Week 2 of the 1960 season. Washington's roster was replete with talentless no-names, though future Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne was one of the players sporting the burgundy and gold that day.
Washington won the game. (It would be the team's only victory all season.) No matter what happens in future matchups, Redskins fans can always say their team won the first.
The 1984 season was somewhat of a let down for the Redskins. That was not surprising, considering the team was coming off back-to-back conference championships and a season in which it set an NFL record for most points scored and recorded a 14-2 record, the best in franchise history.
So even though the 1984 team made the playoffs, their loss in the first round to the Chicago Bear seemed like something of a disappointment.
The one bright spot, aside from Art Monk setting the single season record for receptions, was that 1984 marked the first time the Redskins swept their season series against the Cowboys. They sealed the sweep on December 9 by coming back from 21-6 half time deficit to win, 30-28.
At the time, it seemed like the Redskins would have the upper hand over their rivals for the foreseeable future.
2005 marked the second season in Joe Gibbs' second stint with the Washington Redskins, and few people remember that the season began with something of a quarterback controversy.
When Gibbs rejoined the Redskins in 2004, he opted to replace the young Patrick Ramsey, a player many fans saw as the Redskins' quarterback of the future, with aging veteran Mark Brunell, who somehow is still in the league. *
As a starter, Brunell was underwhelming. He played nine games in the 2004 season and finished with a quarterback rating of 63.9, 11 points lower than Ramsey's rating.
At the beginning of 2005, many fans clamored for Ramsey, but Gibbs stubbornly stuck with Brunell. In the season opener, the Redskins offense failed to find the end zone, and the contingent of Ramsey supporters grew.
In Week 2, the Redskins faced the Dallas Cowboys on a night when Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin were scheduled to be inducted into Dallas' Ring of Honor. Needless to say, the Redskins wanted to crash the party.
But for the majority of the game, Brunell was once again ineffective. The Redskins offense failed to accomplish much of anything and the team trailed 13-0 with four minutes left to play.
Fans throughout the area were ready to begin earnestly questioning the beloved Gibbs' personnel decisions, when, all of a sudden, lighting struck. Facing a 4th and 15 at Dallas' 39 yard line, Brunell dropped back and heaved the ball towards the end zone, where a streaking Santana Moss ran under it for a touchdown. Suddenly the Redskins were back in the game, but no one could have predicted what would happen next.
After the defense forced Dallas to punt, the Redskins got the ball on their own 20-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Brunell once again heaved the ball down field with reckless abandon, and once again Moss found away to run under it before sprinting into the end zone.
The second Brunell to Moss touchdown left the Redskins' owners box jumping for joy as distraught Cowboys fans looked around for an explanation as to what the heck had just happened.
The Redskins hung on to win, and after the game Gibbs told reporters, "It was one of the greatest moments in sports for me."
*In 2004 if you had placed the over under for years Brunell had left in the NFL at six and taken the under, you would have lost money. Ridiculous.