Reporting David Elfin
Not only are the Redskins in the midst of playing their three NFC East rivals in just 16 days, tomorrow they face a challenge they’ve never been able to overcome: winning on Thanksgiving in Dallas.
Maybe the Cowboys’ move from Texas Stadium, where Washington was 0-5 on Turkey Day will help, but the Redskins were winless on their visits to Arlington the past three seasons. And they lost their only Thanksgiving game at the Cotton Bowl, too.
Washington coach Mike Shanahan is a Hall of Fame candidate because of his success in Denver, but even Canton enshrinees George Allen and Joe Gibbs were 0-1 for the Redskins against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Lesser lights Otto Graham (1968), Jack Pardee (1978), Norv Turner (1996) and Steve Spurrier (2002) – after the Cowboys had lost two in a row on Thanksgiving and four out of five — also came up short in Dallas on Turkey Day.
Graham’s team was 4-5 heading to Dallas but wound up 5-9, prompting his firing. Pardee’s team was 8-4 before getting whipped at Texas Stadium and finished 8-8. Turner’s team, also 8-4 before getting beaten on Thanksgiving, finished out of the playoffs at 9-7. His lone victory down the stretch came in the meaningless finale at RFK Stadium in which the Cowboys, having clinched homefield advantage for the playoffs, rested several of their stars. So Spurrier gets the prize for a 2-2 mark after losing to the guys with the stars on their helmets since that was an improvement on his 5-6 record prior to Thanksgiving.
As befits their elite coaching status, Allen led the Redskins to victories in their last two games and a postseason berth after the 1974 loss at Dallas while Gibbs guided his 1990 team on a 4-1 playoff-clinching finishing kick after his Thanksgiving takedown.
The Cowboys are a solid 23-15 against the rest of the league on Thanksgiving – having played host on every fourth Thursday of November going back to 1978 and for 10 of the previous 12 years. But they’re 6-0 against the Redskins on Turkey Day. Washington is 1-0 otherwise on the holiday, having shut out the Lions in Detroit in 1973.
Gibbs’ 27-17 loss came after Dallas had lost its previous four Thanksgivings and was in the midst of a franchise-record five straight losing seasons.
But no Thanksgiving defeat stung more than Allen’s. The Redskins led 16-3 in the third quarter when linebacker Dave Robinson – a nominee for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 – sidelined Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach with a concussion. Washington was sure of its first sweep in the heated NFC East rivalry with Clint Longley, an unknown rookie from Abilene Christian, taking over for the superstar.
“I thought the game was over,” said Redskins backup safety Ken Stone.
However, Longley led the Cowboys to two quick touchdowns before ex-Dallas running back Duane Thomas put Washington back on top 23-17 on a 19-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys then tried to hand the Redskins the game by losing two fumbles, but Ed “Too Tall” Jones blocked Mark Moseley’s 24-yard field goal attempt after the first turnover and Mike Bragg followed the second miscue by punting the ball back to Dallas at its 40 with 1:45 left and the score unchanged.
“We had that thing wrapped up,” said Redskins receiver Charley Taylor, a native Texan who relished victories over the archrival Cowboys. “We could just about smell the turkey on the plane.”
Receiver Bob Hayes just eked out the necessary yardage on a fourth-and-6 throw from Longley, but the Cowboys, needing a touchdown and extra point to win, were still only at midfield with 35 seconds remaining. That’s when receiver Drew Pearson beat Stone and cornerback Mike Bass and hauled in the 50-yard bomb from Longley. Efren Herrera’s extra point gave Dallas the stunning 24-23 victory.
“I can’t remember a more disappointing loss,” lamented Allen, who detested the haughty Cowboys.
Neither could a certain 14-year-old Redskins fanatic in Northwest Washington, who tore his bedroom apart in anger and refused to join the family’s Thanksgiving Dinner.
Longley had posted a sky-high 123.5 passer rating on 11 for 20 accuracy for 203 yards and the two touchdowns. Never one to study film or work hard, Longley played in just eight more games during the rest of his three-year career, compiling an awful 43.6 rating on 20 of 48 accuracy for 238 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
However, on that afternoon at Texas Stadium, Longley produced what Cowboys guard Blaine Nye called “the victory of the uncluttered mind.”
The Redskins had lost the second of what is now six straight Thanksgiving trips to Big D. No. 7 is tomorrow. Shanahan was 2-0 in Dallas on Turkey Day while coaching Denver. Something’s gotta give.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin