Perhaps I’m a bit biased or a tad scarred, but it sure seems like the history of the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions doesn’t exactly bode too well for America’s Team heading into the NFL postseason.
Among my earliest Cowboys memories dates back to the 1981 regular season when the Cowboys met the Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome. In that game, Detroit kicker Eddie Murray kicked a 47-yard field goal to beat Dallas as time expired.
The 27-24 ‘victory’ was enough to leave an impression on me and the rest of Cowboys Nation, but there was more to it than that.
The Lions actually had 12 men on the field during that kick, a clear fact that went overlooked by the officiating crew that afternoon. Further, then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle all but treated the matter as a joke when quizzed by the New York Times the following day:
"I’d like to congratulate all 12 or 13 who participated in the winning field goal. It was certainly a dramatic ending to one of the great games I’ve seen. We have no provisions in our rule book for the change in the outcome of a play in a game. The game just stands. Tex Schramm is always gracious about officials’ mistakes, and I don’t anticipate any difficulty with Dallas."
Well, Rozelle must not have known Schramm very well – and if you’re curious as to why instant replay eventually came into being, this game would have been one of the seeds.
Anyway, Detroit has always had a way of playing the Cowboys pretty well, especially up in Michigan.
The Cowboys and Lions played each other seven times in regular or post season games between ’81 and 1992 with each meeting taking place in Pontiac, Michigan. By the time the Lions finally made their way to Irving to play at Texas Stadium on Monday Night Football in 1994, it was only Detroit’s third trip to the venue since its opening in 1971.
To date, these two teams are all but .500 against one another with Dallas holding a slight edge with a record of 13-12. The teams are 1-1 in post season games.
Speaking of the post season, more recent memory might take you back to the conclusion of the 1991 season when the Cowboys, following a victory at Chicago against the Bears in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, were completely embarrassed at the ‘Dome for the second time that season.
The first loss came in late October that year as the Lions won easily by a score of 34-10, this despite losing starting quarterback Rodney Peete.
The rematch against backup quarterback Erik Kramer in the playoffs went basically the same way, Detroit rolling to a 38-6 win and a subsequent trip to the NFC Championship Game against the Redskins in Washington.
Obviously the Cowboys would go on to bigger and better things beginning the following season while Detroit never made much more noise in the NFC landscape – but there was that bizarre game in ’94 on prime time television in which running back Barry Sanders destroyed the Dallas defense for 194 yards on 40 carries in a 20-17 victory in overtime.
Detroit picked up two more victories against Dallas during the era of head coach Dave Campo, which began in 2000. The Lions found a way to beat the Cowboys twice during the same calendar year (2002), despite neither game occurring in the playoffs.
Campo’s replacement, Bill Parcells, would win three straight games against Detroit from 2003-05 before finally losing to the Lions in his final regular season game as head coach in Dallas.
Which brings us to the most recent of memories for Cowboys Nation.
In 2007, the Cowboys dodged a major bullet in Detroit when they escaped with a narrow come from behind victory. The black jerseys worn by the Lions that day didn’t really seem to help them hold on to a game they clearly could have won.
Then came the era of head coach Jason Garrett, who prior to this season didn’t seem to make much sense as a head coach in the NFL. During his interim tenure as Cowboys coach in 2010, he did manage to lead the Cowboys to a win over the Lions in a November ‘Battle of Backup Quarterbacks’ at the venue formerly known as Cowboys Stadium.
But then came the last two contests in 2011 and 2013, both miserable affairs for Dallas.
In ’11, Dallas jumped out to a 20-3 halftime lead before increasing that advantage to 27-3 early in the third quarter. Quarterback Tony Romo tossed back-to-back interceptions, both returned for touchdowns, in the same quarter, which paved the way for an unlikely 34-30 win for the Lions. Dallas area product Matthew Stafford, a first-overall draft choice in 2009, picked up his first victory against the Cowboys back home.
Last season there was more of the same in terms of missed opportunity, especially where defensive effort was concerned.
Despite a halftime advantage of 13-7 and eventually second half leads of 20-10 and 27-17, the Cowboys could never stop the Detroit offense. Stafford connected with wide receiver Calvin Johnson for 349 yards – that’s not a typo – on 14 catches to ignite a 24-point fourth quarter.
All of that for a slim 31-30 victory for Motown.
So, as next Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game in Arlington, Texas gets closer, expect a truly ‘wild’ football game. This is just how these two teams play regardless of whether it’s been Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips or even Garrett as head coach.