Reporting David Elfin
There’s something about the years ending in 2 for the Redskins.
The franchise was born in Boston in 1932. Washington won its second NFL title in 1942. A decade later, its signature player, Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh retired after a then-record 16 seasons.
In 1962, Bobby Mitchell ended years of shame by becoming the Redskins’ first black player and a Hall of Fame one at that. Ten years later, Hall of Fame coach George Allen’s “Over The Hill Gang” crushed the hated Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game at RFK Stadium to reach its first Super Bowl. Ten years after that, Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs’ Redskins repeated that NFC title game conquest of Dallas en route to winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
The stakes weren’t as high when the teams met in Week 15 of 1992, but the finish was wilder. Dallas led 17-13 in the fourth quarter when Troy Aikman fumbled in his end zone as he was hit by Redskins reserve defensive tackle Jason Buck. Emmitt Smith recovered for Dallas but tried to make a play rather than accept the safety which would have made it 17-15 and given Washington the ball. However, Smith’s toss to Alfredo Roberts fluttered into a crowd from which Washington’s Danny Copeland emerged with the football for the touchdown that gave the Redskins a 20-17 victory, Gibbs’ last triumph at his beloved RFK.
A decade later, Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green ended his record-breaking 20-year Redskins career in a victory over the Cowboys after which he took a victory lap at FedEx Field.
That’s where the longtime archrivals will meet Sunday night in the final game of the 2012 NFL regular season to decide the NFC East champion head-to-head on Washington’s home turf for the first time since the division was created 42 years ago.
More will be on the line Sunday than in any Washington-Dallas regular season contest since the teams met in the 1979 finale at Texas Stadium. Hall of Famer Roger Staubach ripped the heart out of the Redskins that day with two late touchdown passes as the Cowboys overcame a 34-21 deficit to win the game, 35-34, and the NFC East title. Washington went from division champion to over and out in the matter of less than four minutes thanks to St. Louis folding like a house of cards against Chicago, preventing the Redskins from being a wild card.
Since winning their second Super Bowl in January 1988, the Redskins have only swept the Cowboys twice (there’s that number two, again): in 1995 when they shocked the eventual world champions twice despite going 4-10 against everyone else; and in 2005, when they stunned host Dallas 14-13 on two late bombs from Mark Brunell to Santana Moss and then cruised 35-7 in Week 16 at home as Chris Cooley set a career-high with three touchdown catches.
In fact, while the Cowboys have swept the Redskins 16 times, including last year, Washington has only won both matchups with Dallas in two other seasons of their 53-year rivalry: 1984 and 1987, the latter unforgettable because of the shocking victory by the replacement Redskins over the star-laden Cowboys at Texas Stadium.
That’s right, the Redskins failed to sweep the Cowboys in 1972 when they finished their home schedule by dismantling Dallas in the NFC Championship Game (they repeated that triumph in 1982 but the teams had only met once during that strike-shortened regular season).
This year’s Redskins are also trying to join the 1970 Bengals, the 1995 Lions and the 1996 Jaguars as just the fourth team to rally from a 3-6 start to reach postseason.
But in an opposite omen, only six Washington teams have won more consecutive games in a single regular season than the current squad’s six straight. The 1942 and 1991 Redskins won championships. The 1940, 1972 and 1983 Redskins lost title games. Only the 1996 edition, hot early and cold late, came up short of the playoffs.
Although Dallas has played three consecutive games that have come down to the final play and six straight that have been decided by one score, four of Washington’s six straight victories have been just as close.
“You’ve got to get used to winning those tight games,” said Shanahan, whose team was 2-5 in such games before its Week 10 bye. “I think that’s where our football team is right now. They expect to win.”
And why not? When they last lost, baseball season had been over for less than a week, the woeful Wizards were only 0-2, and the presidential election had yet to be decided.
So who can doubt that rookie sensations Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris will keep their remarkable run going right through the Cowboys on Sunday (maybe 30-28, for a two-point margin?) and play host to just the second (there’s that number two, again) playoff game in Landover history the following weekend.
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