Dallas and Washington meet tonight in a winner-take-all match-up for the NFC East Division title. Although the Redskins can still qualify for a Wild Card entry to the post season tournament with a loss, for the Cowboys it is win or go home.
Dallas has the upper hand in the all time regular season win totals with a hefty 62-39 advantage. However, Washington has won both post season contests, coming in two NFC Championship Games at the venerable RFK Stadium.
This premier rivalry had humble beginnings however. Their first meeting was in Week 3 of the 1960 season. Washington won 26-14 on the strength of four takeaways and four field goals. It would be the only win for either team that year, as they both finished at the bottom of their respective divisions. Washington 1-9-2 in the NFL East and Dallas 0-11-1 in the NFL West.
The 1966 Week 10 game in Washington saw Dallas open a 24-6 third quarter lead over the mistake prone Redskins - two of the touchdowns came from a fumble return and a blocked field goal return. Jurgensen lead touchdown drives that spanned the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth, reducing the deficit to 24-20. Meredith responded with a 53-yard scoring strike to Frank Clarke to pad the lead to 31-20. Jurgensen again led a scoring drive, finishing it off with a 10-yard touchdown toss to Bobby Mitchell, cutting the Dallas lead to four. The Redskin defense held and Washington took possession on their own 20-yard line with under two minutes on the clock. After a pass interference gave the Redskins a first down on their own 38, Jurgensen completed two passes that set up a first-and-goal on the Dallas 5-yard line at 1:20. His scoring pass to Angelo Coia came on the next play and Washington took their first lead of the game 34-31. The drive only took 37 seconds and Meredith had one more chance. He advanced to the Redskins 37 with 0:07 to play, but Danny Villaneuva's field goal attempt to tie (there was no overtime in regular season games until 1974) was blocked. Dallas and Washington finished second and fourth respectively in the NFL East with 7-7 and 6-8 records.
The 5-2-1 Cowboys visited the 5-4 Redskins in November the following year and the contest was just as thrilling. Meredith hit Bob Hayes on two long passes (including one that covered 95 yards) as Dallas again opened a wide margin early in the third quarter at 21-6. Jurgensen again led a furious comeback - three drives netted 17 points and Washington lead 23-21 entering the fourth quarter. Dan Reeves and Charley Taylor traded touchdowns and the Redskins lead 30-28 as Meredith took possession at his own 3-yard line and no timeouts. The Washington faithful watched in dread as the Redskins deployed a three-man rush and soft coverage. Meredith's first down pass was good for 26 yards and his next pass was good for 12. After in incompletion and one-yard pass, Meredtih converted the third down play at 0:48 with a 25-yard completion to the Redskin 38. The final blow came on first down as Meredith was hit out-of-bounds on a scramble, the personal foul at the end of the run placed the ball on the 12, where Villanueva booted the 20-yard field goal (the goal posts were on the goal line through 1973) for the 31-30 victory.
The teams met again at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas four weeks later, where the 6-6 Redskins looked to avenge their earlier loss to the 9-2-1 Cowboys. The score was tied 17-17 entering the fourth quarter and the teams traded touchdowns - Dallas with two scoring rushes and Washington with two Jurgensen passes. Washington took over at their own 46 with two minutes to play. A 30 yard A.D. Whitfield run set the Redskins up on the Cowboys 24. Jurgensen was conservative from here, calling two runs and running the clock. Charley Gogolak kicked the winning filed goal from 29-yards out for the 34-31 win. Washington finished the year 7-7 in 5th place in the NFL East. Dallas finished first at 10-3-1 but lost the NFL Championship game 34-27 to Green Bay in the Cotton Bowl.
The Redskins won the NFC East with an 11-3 record and Dallas finished second at 10-4, good for a Wild Card post season entry. Washington handled Green Bay 16-3 in their Divisional Round game, while Dallas won a wild game in San Francisco 30-28, after Coach Tom Landry replaced Morton with Staubach in the second quarter with a 21-3 deficit. Allen found a way to negate the visiting Cowboys momentum before the NFC Championship even started with a little gamesmanship. Allen held his team in the lockerrom through the introduction period. Feeling the anticipation building in the stadium, the crowd's impatience grew and their cheering grew louder and louder, resonating through the stadium, while the Cowboys stood and waited. The referee eventually went into the lockerrom and told Allen to take the field, where they were met with a thunderous ovation. The Washington defense was as intense as the crowd, yielding just eight first downs to Staubach's offense as they kept the Cowboys confined to their own side of the 50-yard line the entire second half. Kilmer was efficient for the Redskins with 14-18 passing. Taylor was his big play target with seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, while Larry Brown churned out 88 yards rushing in the convincing 26-3 win. Washington went on to lose Super Bowl VII to the perfect Miami Dolphins two weeks later.
In Week 12 of the 1974 season, the 8-3 Redskins visited the 6-5 Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. The Redskins had the opportunity to clinch the NFC East with a win, in part due to a win over their rivals only 10 days earlier in Washington. The game was certainly in their favor with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. They had a 16-3 lead and Staubach had just left the game with an injury after a hit by linebacker Dave Robinson. Rookie Clint Longley, seeing his first regular season action, promptly led the Cowboys down-field, and capped the drive with a 35-yard touchdown strike to tight end Billy Joe DuPree. The Cowboys defense held and Longley again moved his team into Redskin territory for another touchdown. Dallas led at the end of the third quarter 17-16. Washington regained the lead on a 19-yard rush by former Cowboy Duane Thomas, and had a chance to ice the game after recovering a Dallas fumble, but defender Ed "Too Tall" Jones blocked Mark Mosley's 19-yard field goal attempt. The Redskins recovered another fumble and had a chance to close the game, but three rushes could not gain a first down and they punted the ball back to Dallas with 1:45 on the clock and no time outs. Longley converted a fourth-and-six with a pass to Hayes at the 50. After an incompletion, Longley hit wide receiver Drew Pearson on a deep route at the four and he ran into the end zone for the stunning touchdown to complete the comeback 24-23. The Redskins rebounded to win the NFC East with a 10-4 record, but lost to the Rams in the Divisional Playoffs. Dallas finished in third place with an 8-4 record and out of the playoffs.
[Highlights from this game can be viewed here: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-thanksgiving/09000d5d8045ec1f/Great-Thanksgiving-performances-Clint-Longley]
The 1982 season was an unusual one. The NFL players strike shortened the regular season to nine games. Some of the consequences were the divisions were eliminated, and the top eight teams from each conference were invited into a single elimination tournament. Consider the fact that the Week 5 meeting between Dallas and Washington (their only one of the season, the game in Dallas had been wiped from the schedule) game of the season took place on December 5th! The Cowboys won convincingly, 24-10, for their sixth in a row over the Redksins. However, that was Washington's only loss of the season. They finished atop the reformatted NFC at 8-1 while Dallas was right behind them in second place at 6-3. Both teams won their first and second round playoff games at home, and set the stage for the NFC Title Game at RFK Stadium. The raucous crowd shook the stadium as Riggins and the Redskins rolled to a 14-3 lead halftime lead. Dallas had lost starting quarterback Danny White to a concussion, but backup Gary Hogeboom settled in and played well, throwing two touchdown passes around a Riggins score, closing the gap to 21-17 entering the fourth quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, Hogeboom lead the Cowboys into Redskins territory again, but kicker Raphiel Septien missed a 42-yard field goal attempt. The Dallas defense held and forced a punt, Washington made a break with an interception of a Hogeboom pass intended for Tony Hill on the sideline. The Cowboys defense held again, forcing the Redskins to settle for a Mosley field goal to open the lead to seven points, but the outcome was still in doubt. Following the kickoff, one first down from the 20, Hogeboom dropped back to set up a screen pass to Tony Dorsett. Defensive end Dexter Manley read the play, tipped the ball up where it was intercepted by defensive tackle Darryl Grant who caught the ball at the 10, broke a tackle at the 5, then scored for a 31-17 lead. Although 6:55 remained, the Cowboys never threatened again. Washington went on to defeat Maimi in Super Bowl XVII the following week for their first Super Bowl victory and first NFL Championship since the Sammy Baugh era.
Tonight's winner-take-all matchup certainly has the potential to recall many of these historic moments. Robert Griffin III and Tony Romo have the opportunity to join the likes of Jurgensen, Kilmer, Morton, Theisman and Staubach with a come-from-behind win and an NFC Eastern Division title, and keep their hopes alive for the ultimate goal, a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.