Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hail to the Return of the Rivalry

Tonight the nation’s pro football fans will have their eyes on the season’s finale, featuring what used to be called the greatest rivalry in pro sports – the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Washington Redskins. After toiling in games that hardly mattered for several years, once again the rivals are matched in a do-or-die situation.

The winning team will be the division champ. After celebrating the winners will begin to plan for their next assignment -- a postseason game that is the first step toward the Super Bowl. The team that comes up short will start planning for next season.

The American Professional Football Conference formed in 1920. In 1922 the league’s name was changed to the National Football League. At theaters the public saw silent newsreels featuring action from Major League Baseball, college football and boxing. Professional football was largely ignored outside of the markets in which it was played.

The Redskins began their existence as the Boston Braves in 1932. The Braves went 4-4-2 in their inaugural season. The nickname was changed to Redskins the next year. In their history, to date, the Washington Redskins have accumulated a 561-533 regular season record.

After losing the NFL championship game to the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 1936 season, the franchise was moved to Washington, D.C. So the ‘Skins were already a decent team when they drafted future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh, out of Texas Christian University, in 1937. Later that year, the Redskins won their first NFL championship game, defeating the Chicago Bears.

The ‘Skins have won five NFL championship games; two of them were prior to the Super Bowl era.

The Dallas Cowboys franchise records began stacking up with a 1960 expansion team that didn’t win a game. Since then Dallas has won five Super Bowls.

My black-and-white recollections of the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins go back to games in the early-1960s, when I was in junior high and both teams were bad. By the mid-1960s the upstart Cowboys had already gotten better; it took the Redskins a few more years to break the spell and catch up in the early-1970s.

Between 1969 and 1989 I attended 20, or so, games at the Redskins much-missed home stadium in those days – affectionately known as RFK. In all those trips to DeeCee two splendid wins over the Cowboys stand out, in particular:
  • Oct. 8, 1973 (Monday Night Football): Washington 14, Dallas 7. The stadium shook more that night than any other time I was in attendance. The hitting during the game was strikingly brutal. The clash ended with Redskins safety Ken Houston bulldogging the Cowboys running back Walt Garrison to the turf, just a step short of the goal line. I saw the game with my father. Hat-tip to my then-wife Valerie’s Uncle Joe, who gave us his tickets.
  • Jan. 22, 1983 (NFC Championship): Washington 31, Dallas 17. For a good 20 minutes before the game started the hungry crowd chanted, "WE WANT DALLAS! WE WANT DALLAS!" The temperature was in the mid-teens. The atmosphere fired up Redskins running back John Riggins to the tune of 140 yards rushing on 36 carries. This trouncing of the Cowboys propelled the ‘Skins on to their first Super Bowl victory. I saw the game with my then-girlfriend, Tana; for warmth we sipped on a bottle of Cointreau. Hat-tip to my pal, Larry, who stood in line for hours to buy the tickets we used.
The most painful Redskins losses to the Cowboys, for me, were all watched on television. No need to dwell on any of them now.

Like Baugh, Houston and Riggins have been inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame. Optimistic fans of the Redskins now sense they have a rookie quarterback of that caliber – Robert Griffin III, who was just named as a conference all-star. Only time will tell if he will measure up to HoF standards.

Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell finished his column devoted to the Cowboys/Redskins rivalry with this: 
That’s the longer-term story that hangs over this one dramatic Sunday night game. The Redskins love their future and can’t wait to see the next chapter. More than likely, all the Cowboys can do is read it and weep.
My prediction for today’s game?

Washington 30, Dallas 23.

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