Memory Lane: Redskins-Cowboys, 1985


The Washington Redskins swept the Dallas Cowboys the previous year en route to an NFC East crown. Sound familiar? Well, this recollection is even worse because the sweep furthered a three-game winning streak against the Cowboys. Dallas hadn’t defeated Washington since Opening Day 1983.

Here it was Opening Day 1985. The Gary Hogeboom experiment failed, so Coach Landry reverted back to what worked, and that was 10-year veteran Danny White’s insertion into the starting quarterback job. In their second season under Bum Bright’s ownership, the Cowboys had to get back to their winning ways under founder Clint Murchison, who sold the team under immense financial and personal pressure. Funny a team having completed its 19th straight winning season would have to return to its “winning ways,” but it’s the wins in the playoffs Dallas sought. They hadn’t won since January 16th, 1983 against the Green Bay Packers.

The site of that win was Texas Stadium, the site of Opening Night 1985 for the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins found themselves on the winning end of the past two game in Texas Stadium, from the “No, Danny, no” game of 1983 to last year’s 30-28 shootout that never officially ended due to cornerback Ron Fellows clobbering Joe Theismann on a kneel down to end the contest.

24 seconds wouldn’t be on the clock on September 5th, 1985. Instead, 15:00 would be placed as the new season began, and Dallas struck first with Rafael Septien’s 53-yard field goal. Dallas then struck again, but with a larger Timmy Newsome touchdown run to go up 10-0.

The Redskins weren’t able to get any traction on the ground with only 43 rushing yards in the first half, though veteran John Riggins was able to punch it in for a touchdown and cut the deficit to 10-7. Washington’s offense relied upon Joe Theismann’s passes. Cowboys secondary coach Gene Stallings coached up his guys to stop the Redskins’ “Fun Bunch,” their three-receiver set. They ran a nickel formation where reserve safety Bill Bates functioned as a linebacker, which befuddled Theismann.

On 2nd down and 10 from the Redskins 18 yard line, Joe Theismann took a five-step drop and heaved it from the 10 for streaking wide receiver Art Monk. Free safety Michael Downs snatched the ball out of the air like a dog retrieving a frisbee midair.

Dallas got the ball back and maligned quarterback Danny White hit former Houston Oiler wide receiver Mike Renfro on a hitch and go for a 55-yard touchdown with six seconds left. A wideout of average speed burned “The NFL’s Fastest Man” like he was neglected Wonderbread. 17-7 Cowboys heading into halftime.

Washington got the ball to start the second half, and drove down to their own 38 yard line. Theismann again took a five-step drop, but Michael Downs wasn’t waiting. Instead, Everson Walls grabbed his 26th career interception. Against whom did his first career interception come? The Washington Redskins. Dallas wasn’t able to do much with the possession except get a 39-yard field goal to go up 20-7 on the Redskins.

It wasn’t just interceptions that the Redskins surrendered. On their very next possession, Cowboys linebacker Eugene Lockhart popped the ball out of runningback George Rogers’ breadbasket like a zit from a teenager’s face. Cowboys safety Dextor Clinkscale recovered the fumble, and the Dallas offense added another field goal to make it 23-7 in the third quarter.

On the Redskins’ next possession, their third of the second half, Theismann ran play action and dropped back again another five steps from his own 29 and surveyed the left side of the field looking for Art Monk. Safety Ron Fellows, who instigated the fight near the end of the ’84 Texas Stadium game, followed the crowd this time with his own interception that he returned inside the Redskins 15, which led to Tony Dorsett’s touchdown run and a 30-7 lead.

Mercifully, the Cowboys allowed the Redskins offense to move the ball on their fourth possession peacefully for a Jeff Hayes punt. The Dallas offense followed suit and didn’t threaten any scores at all. On the Redskins’ fifth drive of the second half, #7 for Washington dropped back from the Cowboys 43 yard line looking for tight end Clint Didier on the left side. He found him, but so did Clinkscale, who hit Didier and sent the ball soaring into the air and then floating down like manna from Heaven. Bates had his breadbasket open and was ready to receive Theismann’s fourth interception on the night. It’s the first Dallas turnover that night that didn’t lead to any offensive points, but it was still positive for the Cowboys. Backup defensive back Victor Scott downed Mike Saxon’s punt at the Redskins 1 yard line. Disaster would certainly strike, given the mistaken-prone way Washington played this night.

It did. Washington moved the ball out to their own 13 yard line, and were still forced to pass due to the Cowboys’ great lead. Theismann dropped back into the pocket and darted the football in the middle of the field, and it was only fitting Victor Scott picked off Theismann for the fifth time and ran it back 26 yards for a 37-7 lead. All Theismann could do was dive at Scott near the left pylon, but Scott sneaked in for six.

It got so bad that Redskins coach Joe Gibbs inserted backup Jay Schroeder into the game. He started from his own 8 yard line, and on 2nd and 10, threw a wobbly pass into the deep right flats that Dennis Thurman intercepted for the 32nd time in his career and ran back for his first touchdown. 44-14 Cowboys.

It’s bad when the starting quarterback gets benched. It’s even worse when the benched starting quarterback has to replace the backup because even he is playing putridly.

Dallas fans aren’t rabid like Philadelphia’s or vendetta-driven like Washington’s. They express their hatred for an opponent subtly and with passive-aggression that outdoes even a vexatious sister-in-law. When Theismann returned to the game, Texas Stadium’s crowd erupted in a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” since it was Joe’s 36th birthday. The Dallas secondary gave him a present of five career interceptions, most ever for #7, so why shouldn’t the crowd be gracious enough to serenade the birthday boy?

Who knows what Theismann’s wish was? Did he wish he hadn’t talked all that smack in the off-season about how the Cowboys’ core was too old or that America’s Team would finish last in the division?

“That was one of the good times against Joe Theismann, because we loved to shut him up,” Everson Walls recalled on a 9/18 taping of the Cowboys Legends Show with Mickey Spagnola.

“You know, we loved to shut him up. That Monday night actually had him quiet for about 48 hours.”

When asked if he had ever seen a performance akin to that from future Cowboys, Walls said he saw it in Week 1 from the 2013 Cowboys.

“We haven’t seen that,” Walls opined. “I don’t recall seeing that with the Super Bowl teams in the ’90s.”

None of the Super Bowl teams were 2-3 like these Cowboys are for the third straight year. Sunday night is another Cowboys and Indians matchup and someone’s birthday. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turns 71 that night, and Dallas fans everywhere are hoping the Cowboys deliver the best gift for the birthday boy.