The NFL missed the Cowboys vs. Redskins rivalry games. It's apparent by the joyous hype we see every day this week on the NFL Network and NFL.com.
Games were played, of course. Sometimes a team, usually the Redskins, would pull off a stunning upset, but those games lacked the winner-take-all aura of a playoff fight of 'Skins vs. 'Boys of the '70s and '80s.
George Allen milked the rivalry, but the baby was born in the epic feud between team owners George Preston Marshall and Clint Murchison that was Shakespearean in scale.
I told this story in a three-part series on my old blog, Running Redskins. It's worth a read, so let me link you there.
Part I: It didn't start with George Allen – Redskins owner Marshall did everything in his power to stifle Pete Rozelle's expansion effort in the Deep South. Marshall built an expansive radio network in the South and built his team to appeal to Old Confederate values accepted in that time.
People saw Marshall's refusal to sign black players as unique, but it was no different from Alabama's Bear Bryant or Texas' Darrel Royal, or any ACC school at the time. Murchison did not feel a need to follow that roster-building concept, even for a team based in Dallas. But he could not win the majority vote of owners while Marshall remained recalcitrant on league expansion.
Murchison hijacked the copyright to Washington's fight song, Hail To The Redskins, and extorted Marshall's vote in favor. Rubbing salt in the wound, Cowboys' GM Tex Schramm rustled three-time Redskins Pro Bowl quarterback Eddie LeBaron off the Redskins' roster in the expansion Draft after Marshall failed to add LeBaron to the protected list.
Imagine RGIII in a Cowboys uniform because of a paperwork screw-up. Yeah. It was like that.
Part II: Aces Wild – I came of age watching the 1960's Redskins. (Don't do the math.) Those teams wore true burgundy wine-colored jerseys. They were terrible. They lost. But they were the most dynamically exciting losers in the history of losers. Why? because Sonny Jurgensen and his band of Merry Receivers, Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor and Jerry Smith.
Aces Wild tells the story of the epic four-game Redskins-Cowboys battle led by Jurgensen and Dandy Don Meredith, the "aces" in this tale, between 1965 and 1967. Those were compelling games, but were no death matches for playoff spots. Yet, Washington's unbroken string of consecutive sellouts was born in that period.
I suspect most Hog Heaven readers, age mid-30s and younger, are only vaguely aware of what Sonny Jurgensen meant to the Redskins. "Sonny Jurgensen" now sounds as ancient as Sammy Baugh does. That's a real shame, if true. Jurgy's abilities were stunning.
Read it: Redskins & Cowboys: Aces Wild.
Redskins & Cowboys Part III: The Future is now – To Redskins fans younger than 40, "the rivalry" was born with the arrival of George Allen in 1971. Two things were working in Allen's favor.
Pete Rozelle had worked his magic to sign megabucks broadcast rights for NFL games. Redskins-Cowboys was already compelling drama for an electronic media that craved compelling drama. The era saw the buildup of Raiders-Chiefs and Vikings-Packers as TV-fueled rivalries. But, those teams lacked the outsized personalities of George Allen and Tom Landry.
Well, maybe Landry did not have an outsized personality like Allen, but by then Landry was a football icon. Allen continued down the path blazed by Vince Lombardi to restore the Redskins as perennial contenders. The high water mark of this period was the 1972 Conference Championship game. The Redskins brushed aside the Cowboys in route to Super Bowl 7.
We couldn't see it at the time, but the Redskins began a slow ebb after the Super Bowl. They would not win another division title until a decade later. The Over the Hill Gang got older. Allen, for some mystifying reason, never trusted Jurgensen as quarterback. The St. Louis Cardinals, got better under head coach Don Coryell and OC Joe Gibbs, the Cowboys kept improving.
The Redskins were always in the thick of the playoff race. When Allen left Washington to return to the Los Angeles Rams, disciples Jack Pardee and Richie Pettibon ran the team.
Image: September 1993 GameDay Magazine cover from author's personal collection.
George Allen image found on profootballhof.com via Google here.
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