The Cowboys-Redskins rivalry was so intense in the 1970s that following a Dallas win that clinched the NFC East title, defensive end Harvey Martin heaved a wreath into Washington's locker room during the Redskins' postgame team prayer.
The rivalry has lost its relevancy in recent decades. Neither team has played in a Super Bowl the past 17 years.
But some of the luster has returned this season. Similar to the old days, the winner Sunday night at FedEx Field will claim the division title and a trip to the playoffs.
“This will be a great game with RGIII (Robert Griffin) and the Cowboys finding their stride,” said former Oklahoma safety Roy Williams, who played eight seasons for the Cowboys. “Tony Romo is playing great for Dallas. It has a chance to be a classic Cowboys-Redskins game.”
Most of the classic games in the series were played in the 1970s when George Allen coached the Redskins against legendary Dallas coach Tom Landry.
Former OU safety Randy Hughes played six seasons for the Cowboys in the rivalry's heyday. Hughes played when Landry feared Allen placed spies in nearby hotels with binoculars to scout Cowboys practices.
“George Allen definitely had Coach Landry spooked,” Hughes said. “Coach Landry would have security officials walk along hotel balconies to make sure. George Allen and Tom didn't like each other. They tried to play with each other's mind.
“Plus it was a challenge every time we played in D.C. Their field was like playing in a pasture. The footing was really slippery. It was really hard to win there.”
Playing at RFK Stadium was unique.
“It was an intimate setting,” said former OU defensive tackle Tony Casillas, who played for Dallas. “The fans were right on you. They hated the Cowboys. They hated the whole ‘America's Team' brand. Plus it was the history of the game, the fans. They had the Hogs. We just hated each other.”
Players with Oklahoma ties said Cowboys-Redskins games always had added significance regardless of the standings, but the most memorable games were when playoff implications were involved.
“If both teams are competing for last place and a high draft pick, the rivalry doesn't mean much,” said former Tulsa receiver Drew Pearson, who played for Dallas. “But if it's for a division title that's big.”
Pearson was involved in one of the classics. Pearson was on the receiving end of a last-minute 50-yard touchdown pass in 1974 that beat the Redskins 24-23 on Thanksgiving Day. The pass was thrown by unheralded quarterback Clint Longley, who was forced to start because Roger Staubach was injured.
“That's absolutely my favorite Cowboys-Redskins memory,” Pearson said. “It was my second year in the league. It was a big win for us against our big rival.”
Tony Peters, a former OU strong safety, played 10 NFL seasons, his final six with Washington. He played on the Redskins team that defeated Dallas in the 1982 NFC title game en route to Super Bowl XVII.
For Peters it was a unique situation. He was born in Oklahoma City and played high school football at Pauls Valley. But many of his relatives and friends were Dallas fans.
“It led to some interesting conversations during the offseason, stuff like, ‘We're going to kick your tail,'” Peters said. “It's good to see the game have a lot on the line again. Griffin has done an outstanding job. It should be a good game, a great game matter of fact.”
It's been 30 years since the Cowboys and Redskins have played such a meaningful game since that 1982 NFC title game Peters played in.
Dallas has won 22 of the last 30 meetings. But after the Redskins upset the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, the rivalry is heating up.
“It's heating up because the competition is getting better,” said Redskins Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Williams, a first-round pick from OU. “We're finally becoming a team that can go out and compete with the top teams in our division. It takes two really competitive teams to make a rivalry.”
Redskins right guard Chris Chester, who played at OU, is in his eighth NFL season, his second with Washington. Chester knows about high-stakes rivalries, having played in Ravens-Steelers battles his five years in Baltimore.
“It's a real blessing to be part of big games, big rivalries,” Chester said. “I'm hoping one day after I retire I can look back on the experiences and reminisce how much fun it was. Emotional, division games with a lot on the line are games you'll always remember.”
Pearson said he's so fired up for Sunday's game he might pull out game tapes from games when he played.
“You always knew the week we played the Redskins because Coach Landry would have a little extra pep in his step,” Pearson said. “This year it's a big game again. It was such a big rivalry. Hopefully it's ‘Here we go again.'”
Dallas kicker Dan Bailey, who played at Oklahoma State, grew up watching the Cowboys. He was part of a generation that heard about the classic Redskins-Cowboys games. Now he's playing in one.
Bailey has booted three game-winning field goals this season. Knowing the history of the rivalry, would a fourth game-winner that sent Dallas to the playoffs be the highlight of his two-year career?
“Definitely,” Bailey said. “They had some great games over the years, but the past is the past. We're just focused on winning this game and moving forward. It should be a lot of fun.”
‘Hail to the Cowboys?'
The Redskins and Cowboys were a rivalry before they played their first game in 1960.
Texas oilman Clint Murchison tried to buy two NFL franchises, including the Redskins. Rebuffed, Murchison applied for an NFL expansion team in Dallas.
Washington owner George Preston Marshall was the only NFL owner not to support Murchison's bid until Marshall discovered Murchison purchased the rights to the “Hail to the Redskins” fight song.
Murchison sold the rights to the song for $2,500 to get Marshall's vote.
Early days of the rivalry
The Washington-Dallas rivalry heated up when George Allen coached the Redskins in the 1970s. But the rivalry actually began to build some traction in the mid-1960s when Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith staged some entertaining shootouts.
Still, the most heated decade of the rivalry was the 1970s when Allen made it a priority to beat the Cowboys. The rivalry became so intense with high stakes showdowns that Cowboys coach Tom Landry feared Allen placed spies to watch Dallas practices.