A Week 7 meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers will remind many that the unexpected happens in the City by the Bay.
It was 36 years ago last week that a precursor of one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries was born. If you’re over the age of 40, anytime the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers meet for a football game, there has to be a flurry of memories. If you’re over 50 there’s even more, but the highlights are about the same
The image of 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark leaping over Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls to score a game-tying touchdown with under a minute remaining to eventually win the 1982 NFC Championship Game is etched in history.
That was the day that professional football arrived in a California city that might not have had 73 people that even knew what the 49ers were before that out-of-nowhere 1981 regular season.
So historic was that pass thrown by Joe Montana that Clark will be honored on Sunday during the game. The circumstances are bittersweet given Clark’s health status, but the point is still clear. This guy caught arguably the most famous pass not named ‘Hail Mary.’
But three months before the game known simply for ‘The Catch,’ there was a previous meeting between these two teams that was far less exciting or as memorable as the January 10 rematch of ’82 that sent the scarlet and gold upstarts to Super Bowl XVI at the soon-to-be imploded Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.
Let’s first go back 36 years ago last week to October 11, 1981.
By Week 6 of that season, the Dallas Cowboys were 4-1 and coming off their first loss of the season against the Cardinals in St. Louis. The 49ers were just 4-2 and staring at a team that had bullied them by a score of 59-14 just a year before at Texas Stadium during an eight-game losing streak that had crippled San Francisco into a dismal 6-10 season. The 3-2 start in ’81 was exactly the same as the 3-2 start the blowout loss at Dallas had secured the year before.
I knew little about football in ’81 as I had just started watching the Cowboys late in ’80, just weeks before the Cowboys lost the first of three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances in the early 1980s. Still, there was positively zero concern over this mild road trip to San Francisco to face an apparent patsy that I had hardly heard of before.
That all changed on this particular afternoon.
I won’t recap how this game went down, partially because I ran off to play Atari before it ever ended. But I will say that it wasn’t even close. San Francisco scored 21 points in the first quarter and ended up coasting to a 45-14 win that might as well have been 45-7. It was the first time I ever saw the Cowboys completely destroyed in a football game, period.
I remember what seemed like 20 interceptions thrown by Danny White and a bunch of red jerseys flying everywhere all day long. The Cowboys looked like they were running in mud before there was mud at Candlestick Park. The 49ers looked young, fast and hungry, even if they still had tons to prove that season.
The Dallas Cowboys were the team of the 1970s and had recently been dubbed America’s Team by an NFL films yearbook video.
But the 49ers would be the team of the 1980s and wouldn’t be stopped until Dallas performed the honors in the early 1990s.
Think about this: The Cowboys didn’t beat the 49ers after that ’81 blowout loss at Candlestick Park until these two teams met in the 1993 NFC Championship Game on the same sloppy field. It wasn’t until the Cowboys took that power back well over a decade later with a completely new generation of talent that Cowboys Nation even saw a single win against the Niners.
As of right now, the Cowboys have won four of their last five games against the 49ers with the only loss coming on Week 1 of the 2014 regular season. Sunday’s game marks the 29th regular season meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers during the regular season. Including the postseason, the series is tied at 17-17-1.
But history tells us that the 2-3 Cowboys are assured of positively nothing against a winless 49ers team on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.