Tonight's game will mark the seventeenth meeting between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. The Monday-night history between the two teams dates to 1973, but the beginning of the tradition that most older fans remember came in 1980. That was the first year in which Redskins / Cowboys was the season-opener for Monday Night Football, during an era when MNF commanded a gigantic network television audience.
The Redskins and Cowboys met on the season premiere five times between ‘80 and ‘93, also playing on Monday night on two other occasions during that span. Tonight is actually the latest in the season that Washington and Dallas have ever met on Monday Night Football. The previous mark was last season's Week 8 game.
This is certainly the most meaningful Monday meeting between the two in some time. Dallas can improbably pull within a game of first place if it can win, while a victory by the Redskins would mean a one-game lead over the Giants and Eagles and wins over all three NFC East opponents.
That level of significance on both sides has been a rarity in the more recent MNF contests between the two. Overall, the series is even at eight wins apiece, and there have been a number of great games. Here's a look back at some of the more memorable Monday clashes between the rivals over the past four decades:
1973 - Redskins 14, Cowboys 7: Your dad probably regaled you with stories about this one when you were growing up. The Redskins trailed 7-0 in the fourth, but got a pair of scores on a one-yard Sonny Jurgensen pass to Charley Taylor and a 26-yard interception return by Brig Owens. With Washington leading by seven late in the game, safety Ken Houston made a game-saving, goal-line tackle of the Cowboys' Walt Garrison to preserve the victory.
1978 - Redskins 9, Cowboys 5: A defensive struggle won via three Mark Moseley field goals ended in strange fashion, as Joe Theismann took an intentional safety while simultaneously celebrating the Washington win. The Redskins had sole possession of first place at 5-0 after beating the defending-world-champion Cowboys. However, after improving to 6-0 the next week, Washington collapsed to an 8-8 final record that included five straight losses to end the year.
1983 - Cowboys 31, Redskins 30: This time, the Redskins were the defending champions, and they built a 23-3 halftime lead against Dallas, providing a glimpse of the dominance Washington would show for the rest of the season. Yet, Dallas rallied for four second-half touchdowns to edge the Redskins by a point. This was one of only two games Washington lost in their 14-2 year. The other was also a one-point loss on Monday Night Football (48-47 to the Packers). This game was noteworthy for two other reasons. First, it included the Howard Cosell "little monkey" controversy that ultimately led to his departure from the MNF booth. Second, Darrell Green, playing the very first game of his NFL career, caught Tony Dorsett from behind, cementing Green's reputation as the fastest player in the game.
1987 - Redskins 13, Cowboys 7: With the 1987 players' strike nearing its conclusion, the Dallas Cowboys had many of their regulars back for this match-up, including Dorsett, quarterback Danny White, and defensive lineman Randy White. The Redskins, on the other hand, were the only team in the NFL that didn't have a single player cross the picket line. It didn't matter. Despite losing starting (replacement) quarterback Ed Rubbert in the first quarter, the Redskins prevailed in Dallas 13-7. It was a bizarre scene, as frustrated Cowboys fans booed their own team's inability to beat Washington's replacement players, while the "real" Redskins watched with mixed emotions a thousand miles away. As an added legacy from this game, the film "The Replacements" took its premise from the Redskins' triumph over Dallas during the strike.
1991 - Redskins 33, Cowboys 31: The two teams did battle in what turned out to be another Super Bowl season for the Redskins. This was one of the better games in the history of the rivalry, as the homestanding and up-and-coming Cowboys gave the favored Redskins everything they could handle. A 75-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith pushed Dallas to an early 14-7 lead, but Washington eventually won on the strength of a superb kicking display by Chip Lohmiller. Lohmiller kicked four field goals, the shortest of which was a 45-yarder. He drilled two from 50+, and knocked through a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter for what proved to be the winning points.
2005 - Redskins 14, Cowboys 13: In this 2005 meeting, Joe Gibbs' Redskins couldn't get anything going offensively for nearly the entire game against Bill Parcells' Cowboys. Yet, Washington played just well enough on the other side of the ball to limit the Dallas lead to 10-0 going into the late stages of the game. A Jose Cortez field goal extended that lead to 13-0 with less than six minutes to go. Then, Mark Brunell connected with Santana Moss on a 39-yard bomb for a touchdown on a fourth-and-15 play. Washington got the ball back, and Brunell hit Moss again, this time on a 70-yard deep ball that won the game 14-13. It was the first victory for the Redskins in Dallas in nine years.
2014 - Redskins 20, Cowboys 17 (OT): In the midst of a mostly miserable season, Washington somehow managed to pull out a road victory against a Cowboys team that would wind up as 12-4 divisional champions. Unlikely hero Colt McCoy went 25-for-30 for 299 yards passing and ran for a touchdown, while DeSean Jackson had six receptions for 136 yards. Kai Forbath's 40-yarder at 9:43 of overtime and a subsequent stop on downs thanks to a nifty play by Bashaud Breeland on a pass intended for Dez Bryant provided the 2014 Redskins with one of their only highlights of the season.
Whether the Redskins wind up beating Dallas in another classic remains to be seen. What's clear is that a Washington win would put the Redskins in the divisional driver's seat at this point in the year for the first time this century (remember: Washington had to win seven straight games at the end of 2012 to take the crown).
A loss, on the other hand, would mean that all three of the Redskins' NFC East rivals would have new life, including the dreaded Cowboys. The Jets' win over the Giants Sunday, plus the Eagles' surprising victory at New England, would populate the division with three five-win teams and a four-win team if Washington falls to Dallas.
Many of us have talked a lot about the incremental progress this franchise has made this year. Like last week's game, tonight is a good measuring stick. The Redskins have an opportunity to take a major step forward. They can do so by beating their biggest rival—a team that stands at 3-8 and is missing its starting quarterback—in a national prime-time game.
Maybe this game will be another classic like the ones listed above. Maybe it won't be. But, either way, truly competitive teams take advantage when they have golden opportunities like the one Washington has against Dallas: A chance to stake a claim to sole possession of first place while eliminating an arch-rival on national television.
We'll find out tonight whether the Redskins can rejoin the list of NFL teams who win that kind of game.