As much as Redskins fans hate to admit it, the Redskins-Dallas rivalry had lost some of its luster between 1996 and 2004. During that stretch, Dallas won 15 of the 18 games in the NFL's top traditional pairing.
Mark Brunell, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and the Redskins put the rivalry back at front and center last year, though. With their 14-13 win on Week 2 and 35-7 win on Week 15, the Redskins scored their first sweep in the Cowboys series since 1995.
Redskins-Cowboys, once again, is the NFL's top show. Heading into Sunday night's nationally televised showdown at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys hold a 54-36-2 advantage all time in the series. Dallas went through a stretch where they won 14-of-15 games against the Redskins--until last season.
"I said up until last year that it was hard to have a rivalry when one team was winning all the time," Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs said. "Certainly they won a majority of the games. We had a good year last year. Down there, we had one of those miracle endings, and up here [at FedExField] we played extremely well. But we know what to expect when we play the Cowboys. We expect it to be a war."
Added defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn, who has played in eight Redskins-Cowboys games: "You can call it a rivalry again."
Rather than numbers and statistics, this is a rivalry driven by on-the-field intensity of its players and off-the-field passion of its fans.
Former Redskin Mark May once said: "There are three great things in life. Winning the lottery, having a baby and beating the Cowboys."
Remember these moments in the rivalry?
- Kenny Houston versus Walt Garrison at the goal line in 1973.
- Clint Longley to Drew Pearson Thanksgiving Day the next year.
- Tony Hill catching a last-minute touchdown pass in the 1979 season finale to spoil the Redskins' playoff bid.
- The "We Want Dallas" chants before the 1982 NFC Championship Game between the two teams.
- Darryl Grant high-stepping into the end zone in the 1982 NFC Championship game. The Redskins would beat Dallas and advance to the Super Bowl with a 31-17 win at a raucous RFK Stadium.
- Darrell Green tracking down Tony Dorsett in 1983.
- Mark Brunell to Santana Moss twice in the final 3:46 last season.
These are among the enduring images.
In the buildup to the Sept. 17 meeting in Dallas, the Washington roster includes three players who have spent time in the Dallas organization--offensive lineman Tyson Walter, defensive end Demetric Evans and linebacker Khary Campbell.
Walter, a 6-4, 303-pound jack-of-all trades offensive lineman out of Ohio State, was a sixth-round pick of the Cowboys back in 2002. He earned eight starts for Dallas at center in 2002 and played with the Cowboys for three seasons.
Dallas won five of six games versus the Redskins during that stretch. Walter saw the rivalry from the Cowboys' angle back then and it's something he's never forgotten.
"The veteran guys, they never let the young guys take a game against the Redskins as just another game," Walter recalls. "My rookie year, 2002, I remember Darren Woodson and Emmitt [Smith] as the real leaders. They would beat it into the young guys and the newcomers to the team, 'We have to beat the Redskins, at all costs.'"
When the stakes have been at their highest, it's been all Redskins.
In the NFC championship game on Dec. 31, 1972, Washington whipped Dallas 26-3 to advance to Super Bowl VII, where the Dolphins posted a 14-7 victory to cap a 17-0 season, the only undefeated campaign in NFL history.
In the NFC championship game on Jan. 22, 1983, Washington manhandled the Cowboys 31-17 en route to defeating the Dolphins 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII for the Redskins' first NFL title in 40 years.
The Redskins, thus, are 2-0 versus the Cowboys in the postseason.
Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen once explained the rivalry in this fashion: "Playing the Cowboys was a tremendous challenge for us. The rivalry grew because they were a class organization, a very good football team. For us, we were struggling and trying to get better, and anytime we played them, we knew we had to be at our best."
On many other occasions, there's been something much less than a mutual admiration society. George Allen's distaste for all things related to the Cowboys was just about all-inclusive. In the 70s, Allen elevated the rivalry to an all-time high.
Recalled former Redskin Brig Owens: "The Cowboys promoted themselves at the time as 'America's team' but we were in the Nation's Capital. We were 'America's team' as far as George was concerned."
Pick any era. Stories abound and records heading into the games meant little. The Cowboys slipped in 1989 by finishing 1-15 under first-year coach Jimmy Johnson. But that one win came over Washington.
In recent years, the presence of legendary coaches Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells has added another key element to the rivalry.
When he took over as Dallas head coach in 2003, Parcells said: "I'm sure the rivalry will be back. I don't think there's any doubt. It will be great. It's good for the league, and hopefully, it will be good for both Joe and I."
As we now know, it was wonderful for Parcells in 2003 and 2004 and outstanding for Gibbs in 2005.