It’s Cowboys week again in Washington, but with the Redskins on a five-game skid and in last place in the NFC East yet again, there’s just not a lot of excitement about the 104threnewal of what used to be America’s Rivalry.
Most of the dropoff in hype can be blamed on the teams’ changed fortunes since Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs retired from the Redskins for the first time in March 1993.
During the 22 previous seasons, the Redskins and Cowboys were both winners 14 times and made the playoffs together nine times. They even squared off twice in NFC Championship Games with Washington winning in 1972 and 1982.
During the 18 full seasons since, Dallas and Washington were winners together just four times, reaching postseason together only in 1999 and 2007.
To put it another way, the Redskins and Cowboys finished below .500 in the same season just once from 1971-96 (1988). They did so three times during the past nine years (2002, 2004 and 2010).
And yet, the rivalry still has resonance for a quartet of young Redskins. Injured running back Tim Hightower and cornerbacks Josh Wilson and Byron Westbrook played together at DeMatha High in 2000 while center/guard Will Montgomery was playing at Centreville High.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to play in this longtime, great rivalry,” said Upper Marlboro native Wilson, who signed with the Redskins on July 30 after four years with Seattle and Baltimore. “A lot of people live and die by Redskins vs. Cowboys. The first professional football game I ever went to was a Redskins-Cowboys Monday night game at RFK Stadium in 1993 with my grandfather (Rossie Wills) when I was 8. The crazy thing is that we’re all Redskins fans in my family, but he was a huge Cowboys fan. I was so excited to go. It was something I’ll never forget.”
Hightower, who arrived via an Aug. 1 trade with Arizona, is bummed that he’s going to miss his first home game against the Cowboys because he’s out for the year following knee surgery last Tuesday.
“I feel like I’ve seen every single Redskins-Cowboys game since I started watching football so it’s really disappointing that I won’t be able to play,” said the 25-year-old Alexandria native. “Plus when you walk off that field with a loss (in Week 3 at Dallas), you want to get another chance at that team to make things right.”
Montgomery, 28, said that Redskins-Cowboys games were all about bragging rights when he was growing up in Clifton.
“I was always a Redskins fan,” Montgomery said. “Our neighbors were Cowboys fans and we always gave them a hard time whenever it was Redskins-Cowboys. They’re definitely our biggest rival and the games mean a lot to a lot of people. There’s more hype leading up to it, but once you’re in it, it’s just a regular game.”
Growing up in Hyattsville, Westbrook, 27, didn’t root for the Redskins or the Cowboys. He liked San Francisco “but still had love for the hometown team” and watched the Redskins-Cowboys games like everyone else.
“There’s a lot of Maryland, DC and Virginia guys in the league so it doesn’t surprise me that we have four local guys,” Westbrook said. “Tim, Josh and I played together at DeMatha in 2000 and I was driving Tim to school every day. It’s cool that all three of us are on the same team again now. We’re not in Seattle or Arizona. We’re on the hometown team.”
But even though nine of the past 11 games between the rivals have been decided by a total of 26 points, none by more than six, the battles between the hometown team and the hated Cowboys just aren’t the same.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.