Eight years after retiring, all-pro defensive tackle Bob Lilly has no trouble remembering the hyperbolic, even comic, dimensions of the rivalry between Dallas and Washington during the George Allen era.
"George was always trying to distract us," said Lilly. "We'd be practicing the week of a Washington game and we'd see helicopters buzzing around overhead with people using binoculars looking down on us. We let that kind of thing distract us for a few years."
Everyone in Dallas has a favorite Allen-era story -- tales of espionage, name-calling and deception. They remember the time in 1971 when then Redskins Coach Allen charged the Cowboys with deliberately setting free a yapping little dog from the Cowboys bench onto the field in order to disrupt a crucial Redskins drive. They remember Diron Talbert questioning Roger Staubach's machismo.
Even Cowboys Coach Tom Landry, who usually fields questions with little emotion, lets a smile crinkle across his face as he recalls his old nemesis.
"George had a way of getting you mad," said Landry. "He was a psychologist, really, who was always trying to get an edge. He even used to get Roger (Staubach) upset."
But for all the nonsense that preceded those contests, the games were exciting mostly because they involved evenly matched contenders.
So when Allen brought the Redskins to the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 3, 1971, and watched Charley Harraway run 55 yards for the winning touchdown to end a six-game losing streak to Dallas, something had changed. The Redskins had proved themselves contenders. From then on, Allen never hesitated to jab at the Cowboys. A rivalry was born.
Many Washingtonians, perhaps ignoring the fact the Redskins have lost their last five games with the Cowboys, still hate Dallas. For Redskins fans, the rivalry never faded. They see a team dressed in the colors of a supercharged stock car getting all the breaks, all the adoration, all the riches. A made-for-TV football team that never gets dirty, scratched or scarred.
But with the departure of Allen and the rise of the Philadelphia Eagles and, even more recently, the New York Giants, most Dallas players and coaches seem to feel that while the Redskins may prove to be contenders once again, the rivalry is not what it once was.
Benny Barnes, an 11-year veteran in the Cowboys' defensive backfield, said, "It's only really special for the few of us old heads. In the past couple of years it's died down a little because of the turnover in players."
"The game is important but it's different now," said quarterback Danny White. "The pregame hype and accusations and name-calling aren't there like they were under Allen."
Many Cowboys know the Allen years only as fans and inheritors. Their responsibility is not so much to history as to the present season, the next opponent. After all, the rookies on this team were in junior high when Landry was playing the straight man to Allen's pranks.
Staubach is one player who had ample chance to witness the rise and fall of the rivalry, a decline that began on a December day in 1979 when Staubach led his team through a two-minute drill that produced 14 points, a 35-34 win, and an ongoing winning streak against the Redskins. A miracle, they said in Dallas. Robbery, they said in Washington.
"I don't think the rivalry is at that kind of pitch yet," said Staubach. "George tried to create a psychological atmosphere with the name-calling and it did get you up. The Redskins didn't like us and we didn't like them, particularly. Some players like Diron Talbert really popped off . . . Joe Gibbs is a lot more low key. Like George he's building a fine football team, only without the psychological atmosphere."
"What made the rivalry was that both teams were fighting for the conference championship," said Tex Schramm, the Cowboys president, who should know. "What Allen added was the Tabasco. He relied on emotion. Gibbs has a different approach. They look good again, but Gibbs keeps his emotions to himself. He keeps to his own practice field, while George put his emotions in the press and everywhere else. The old rivalry was a lot of fun. But it doesn't take the heat off now . . .The Redskins are the team to beat now with a 4-0 record. So it's going to be a hell of a game."
Does that mean the rivalry is back?
"Maybe," said Schramm.
No one on the Cowboys used to get more riled by Allen's antics than Staubach. These days, both men work on the President's Commission on Physical Fitness and their relationship has changed dramatically.
"When I see George now, there's no animosity," said Staubach. "Usually, we go out and jog together."