Only once in 23 seasons have the Washington Redskins beaten the Dallas Cowboys two straight times.
George Allen's Super Bowl team of 1972 won its third game against the Cowboys that season--the NFC championship game--and then won the teams' first game in '73.
A decade later, the Redskins again beat the Cowboys in the NFC title game. So tonight at RFK the Redskins have their 16th chance in 24 seasons to win a second straight game. That means the Redskins are 1-12-2 against Dallas in the next meetings after their victories.
As dynasties are built, and owner Jack Kent Cooke says all he wants is a quasidynasty such as the Cowboys created so efficiently, a second straight victory over Dallas is a small but necessary step. Winning a Super Bowl is one thing. Putting the Cowboys behind you is another.
Make no mistake. The Redskins still must prove they belong in the same sentence with Dallas. Like the Yankees, Canadiens and Celtics, the Cowboys are the standard by which greatness in their game is measured. The Redskins' 31-17 victory over the Cowboys here last January has been written off by many experts as an inexplicable, flukish blip that serves best to reassure us that even the Cowboys are mortal.
We are not talking respect here. The Redskins have the respect born of an overwhelming Super Bowl victory accomplished in a strike-shortened season, which is their only due now.
What the Redskins want, without being so brash as to say it, is recognition that they are a great team. Such recognition comes only after years (the Cowboys twice have beaten the Redskins six straight times). Those years of sustained excellence may have begun for the Redskins last season.
Tonight we will see the beginnings of an answer to the pertinent questions.
A dynasty aborning?
Or another San Francisco meteor burning out?
The first, it says here, is more like it. Experts are mistaken in ignoring the Redskins' 1981 season. With a new coach and unorthodox offense, the Redskins started 0-5. Since then, they are 20-4. Dallas is 17-7 in its last 24 games.
It is also wrong to say the Redskins can't repeat last season's good work if your judgment is based on three accepted fallacies:
* The Redskins had no serious injuries last year;
* Mark Moseley can't repeat his astonishing kicking;
* John Riggins is an ordinary back who had an extraordinary month.
Injuries to Joe Washington and Art Monk robbed the Redskins of their most versatile offensive players for last year's big games. Until Charlie Brown developed as a game-breaker and the Hogs became omnipotent, only Washington and Monk seemed capable of the individual magic a great team needs.
Moseley's kicking--20 straight field goals--was so important that he earned the NFL's most valuable player award. Still, the Redskins would have won the Super Bowl tournament with Ann-Margret kicking. Moseley carried the team early, when it needed him the most, but the Redskins later were so overpowering that a kicker was superfluous. Moseley was four of eight in four playoff games, none closer than 10 points.
As for Riggins, he is extraordinary. Maybe he won't ever gain 150 yards in a game again. With Washington in there, he won't have to. But Riggins, for the first time, is the right man with the right team. He will get the job done.
No, these Redskins aren't this year's 49ers.
Which is not to say it is likely the Redskins tonight will duplicate January's victory over Dallas. Few teams ever dominate the Cowboys and fewer repeat victories. It is, as history teaches, more likely that the Cowboys will reverse that score because they have destroyed even teams playing well.
To beat Dallas, the Redskins first need a strong front-seven defense to contain Tony Dorsett. Next they need gambling, blitzing defense to shake Danny White. If that produces no interceptions, it at least will help cover any mistakes their rookie cornerback, Darrell Green, makes under the Cowboys' inevitable attack.
The Redskins also must put pressure on the Cowboys' rookie punter, John Warren, hoping for the special-teams play that separates great teams from good ones.
There is no reason, especially with Monk again injured, to think the Redskins' offense will be different from January's. Line up the Hogs with those Doomsday fellows: Jacoby against Martin, Grimm against White, Starke against Jones, May against Dutton. Then give Riggins the ball 30 times between the tackles.
Joe Washington is healthy, a game-breaker the Redskins didn't have last time. With Joe Theismann throwing well against a Dallas secondary often committed to man-to-man coverage, Charlie Brown is always a scoring threat.
Anything less than a big day from Riggins, though, and the Redskins are in trouble. Either the Hogs couldn't handle the Doomsdayers, or Riggins couldn't get to daylight quickly enough.
In the first Dallas game last season, a 24-10 loss, Riggins carried nine times for 26 yards. He was 36 for 140 next time. From one rushing first down, the Redskins went to 11. The Redskins must run well to avoid the catastrophe of forced passing against the Dallas front four, which is a fearsome thing indeed when let loose.
This ball-control offense is also important to Washington defensively, for it denies Dallas time to score. The Redskins had the ball 32 minutes 38 seconds of the NFC championship game. That was 5 minutes 4 seconds more than the first game.
Ball control, no more than two sacks allowed, no fumbles, no interceptions, scoring every time inside the 20-yard line--these are the elements important to Washington tonight. They also are examples of the skill and discipline that transformed an 0-5 team of early-'82 into a Super Bowl champion the next winter.
Stay tuned this time.