Sports Outside the Beltway

Cowboys-Redskins Rivalry Dead?

Greg Garber argues that the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry has faded into little more than “just another football game” in the era of free agency.

On Oct. 9, 1960, the Redskins beat the fledgling Cowboys 26-14 in the third game of their existence. Thus, the rivalry — one of the greatest in sports history — was born. Tom Landry, George Allen, Joe Gibbs, Marshall, Tex Schramm, Roger Staubach, Sonny Jurgensen, John Riggins, Tony Dorsett, Bob Lilly, Randy White and Rayfield Wright — they all enriched the rivalry, and they’re all enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The two teams would win eight Super Bowls between them and fire emotions not just in their own cities, but across the nation as well. “Those were the glory days,” said Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, who played linebacker for the Cowboys from 1975-79. “We had Crazy Ray and they had the black Indian, and those mascots were hating on each other. There was nothing better than a Cowboys-Redskins game.”


In today’s mercenary world of the NFL, how can you generate hatred without history? The rivalry, at least at the professional level, is dead.

Rivalries still flourish in college, where the program matters more than the player. Consider the best: Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, Florida-Georgia, Oklahoma-Texas and, naturally, Harvard-Yale.

Free agency, of course, has changed everything. The Redskins might be the most active team in aggressively pursuing free agents in seven years under owner Daniel Snyder. There were nine unrestricted free agents added to Washington’s training camp roster in 2006 alone. This kind of roster movement undermines continuity and, with it, long-term tenures that identify a player with a single team.

“I think all the rivalries in the NFL have lost a little because of free agency. Players and coaches, too, move around so much more than they used to,” said NBC broadcaster John Madden on the Cowboys Radio Network back in September. “They haven’t grown up in the culture. But as far as rivalries exist in today’s NFL, I don’t think there’s much question Dallas and Washington is probably the best one.”


All of these rivalries have had their moments but, clearly, the most sustained runs of excellence belong to the past. Rivalries today have the shelf-life of a sitcom in a world of “reality” television. Because of their division affiliations, matchups like Steelers-Browns and Broncos-Raiders still occur twice each season, but lately, it seems, both teams are rarely playoff contenders in the same season.

As a Cowboys fan living in Redskin country, I have to admit this is right. Indeed, I would argue that the Eagles, not the Redskins, are the Cowboys most hated rival these days. There was some legitimate bad blood during the Buddy Ryan days and the Eagles have been the most dominant team in the NFC East in recent years, making wins against Philly more satisfying than those against the hapless Redskins.

While the return of Joe Gibbs to Washington and Parcells to the division has helped evoke memories of the old days, the fact of the matter is that pretty much everybody likes Gibbs and pretty much everybody respects Parcells. Until the teams become legitimate obstacles to each others’ success on a regular basis, it’s unlikely the rivalry will heat up. The ‘Skins beat the Cowboys twice last year, narrowly securing a playoff berth and denying a spot to their nemesis. But the ‘Boys had so many problems last year between kicking, quarterbacking, and blocking that the Redskins got very little blame for that.

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