The Redskins held off the sinking Eagles to improve their record to 9-6, good enough for sole possession of first place in the NFC East, setting up a “winner take all” match against the 8-7 Cowboys.Six straight wins have catapulted the Redskins not only into playoff contention, but they now have control of their own destiny. The week 17 fixture, against their nemesis Cowboys, reminds me of another classic Redskins/Cowboys game, one of my greatest Redskins’ memories, not long after I first discovered this great sport.
It was January 22nd, 1983 and the Redskins were leading the Minnesota Vikings 21-7 at RFK, looking to advance to the NFC Championship game. Before the end of the game, the chant went up…”We Want Dallas, We Want Dallas”. The crowd at RFK chanted, the stands literally rocked, and the challenge went out the day before the Cowboys were due to take on the Green Bay Packers. “We Want Dallas”, the chance to avenge the only loss in the strike shortened 1982 season, and a fairytale end to an unlikely championship game in Head Coach Joe Gibbs’ second season in charge.
The Cowboys, self acclaimed “America’s Team”, had handed the Redskins their only defeat of the season, a 24-10 loss at RFK. But this meeting, there was a different feeling about it. Dallas were led by Hall of Fame Head Coach Tom Landry, with Hall of Fame players Tony Dorsett, Randy White and Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and a host of household names alongside them including ex-Redskin cornerback Shawn Springs’ father, Ron, Danny White, Doug Cosbie, Drew Pearson, Harvey Martin, and Everson Walls.
With just over two seasons of following the Redskins and the NFL, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The Cowboys had beaten us, and beaten us fairly convincingly during the season so why would we want to play them again?
I was fortunate that by this time, a new terrestrial channel in the UK, Channel 4, had started to show NFL games on Sundays, including live coverage of some playoff games. This was a must see game, so my brother and I sat down to watch it with trepidation.
After opening up a 14-3 lead, and knocking starting quarterback Danny White out of the game, things were looking good for the Redskins. I mean, who was this Gary Hogeboom guy anyway? A fifth round draft pick in 1980 who had never thrown a pass in the NFL prior to this season and only eight passes in total? Surely we would hold them off.
I remember Hogeboom playing a great game though, getting the Cowboys back into the game with the Redskins holding a slender four point lead at 21-17. A Mark Moseley field goal extended the gap to seven but the Cowboys had the ball. Then came the play, one of my fondest memories from my early NFL years. Defensive end Dexter Manley tipping the ball from a Hogeboom pass and Defensive tackle Darry Grant grabbing it and rumbling ten yards into the Cowboys’ endzone for the final score of the day.
Cue scenes of great rejoicing and more steps into the unknown of following a team going to the Superbowl!
In the first meeting that season, Running back John Riggins had been held to just 26 yards. He ran over the Cowboys for 140. Quarterback Joe Theismann threw three interceptions and was sacked seven times but in the rematch, he played an efficient, turnover free game while the defence snagged two interceptions and a fumble, converting them into 17 points.
I’m not sure that the stands at FedEx will bounce quite like they did at RFK, but the anticipation, the build up, the nervousness will be on a par as the Redskins try to win their first NFC East title since 1999. Can they manage it? Can RG3’s knee hold up? Can the defence continue to force turnovers? Well, it’s written isn’t it?