I used to have a mentor named “The Soothsayer.” He had an incredible story about his Cowboys-Redskins experience. It was Week 3 2000, and the 0-2 Cowboys went into Washington to take on the 1-1 Redskins on Monday Night Football. The Redskins were supposed to roll over the Aikman-less Cowboys, who only had Randall Cunningham to replace him. There was great consternation for Dallas fans before the game. My mentor and his father and brother stayed at the team hotel in Washington, and ol’ Sooth managed to shake hands with everyone from Dave Campo to Joe Avezzano to Mickey Spagnola and Sooth told them the same thing:
“Cowboys and Indians.”
That was the explanation for why the Cowboys would prevail, and they did to the tune of 27-21 in an improbable win. That’s the theme for this Sunday night.
Cowboys and Indians.
Though I have been more of an historian this season than an analyst, I still don’t like to just say, “Oh, in these games, you just have to throw out the stats and buckle your chinstrap.” It’s intellectually dishonest just a tad bit.
But, seriously, what can I say?
We’ve seen strange things in this rivalry – things that make men who’ve covered or coached football for thirty years declare unseen before. We’ve seen blocked last-second field goals, as was the case in 1965 and 2006 in Washington. We’ve seen heroic comebacks, as was the case in 1965 and 1979. We’ve seen the game end on bizarre plays, like what happened in 1973 and 2010. We’ve seen a rookie quarterback with an “uncluttered mind” throw the game-winning touchdown on Thanksgiving in 1974. We’ve seen a band of replacement players defeat superstars on their home turf in prime time in 1987. In 1983 and 1991, we saw teams on a mission go into hostile territory late in the season and pull out a season-saving win. We’ve seen spoiled homecomings (2005) and cheerful goodbyes (1996). We’ve seen the Redskins host championship games and dominate Dallas. (1972 and 1982).
With Cowboys and Redskins, one can never predict an accurate outcome.
Heading into Sunday night, this is going to be another part of the lore that is Cowboys and Redskins. It’s not the same rivalry that it used to be. The hatred and bitterness just isn’t there as it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s. That left when Joe Gibbs retired and the Cowboys subjugated Washington in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The fans still have it, but the organization doesn’t still have it.
Nonetheless, there is something appealing nationally about this matchup Sunday night. Perhaps it’s the fact the Cowboys, who have been portrayed by the media as more villainous than valiant, are meeting their arch-nemesis on the biggest stage that the NFL has to offer. Perhaps it’s the fact it’s the only game on the Week 17 slate that looked appetizing to NBC Sports. In any event, America knows it’s going to witness a showdown to conclude Week 17 in the NFL and wrap up the last playoff spot.
The shame of it all is there has to be a loser in this winner-take-all encounter. Because for the losing team, an angry mob of disgruntled fans await. And that’s the true shame. These two teams have battled through so many injuries and hardships just to get to this precipice of total victory. That unto itself is a masterful coaching job, but the defeated fan base will not be able to see it because their team didn’t make the playoffs.
For Dallas, just winning the NFC East crown after being 3-5 at one point in the year would be a tremendous accomplishment, especially considering the adversity this team has faced in 2012. As far as I am concerned, this is the Cowboys’ championship game. Should they make the playoffs as the fourth seed, they would face a formidable wild card Seattle team that has already had their way with Dallas. There’s no hope in the playoffs, and it’s simply from being too depleted. This team has the talent and the coaching.
Hopefully, there’s still enough talent left for the coaches to put together a good game plan and win the NFC East title. How would you as a player feel knowing that there are stitched hats saying “Cowboys: 2012 NFC East Champions” in the building? It’s like the intersection of two parallel universes on Sunday night, and here’s to hoping our Dallas Cowboys aren’t caught an infinity loop.