A football summit, this is not.
To hold a summit, as we certainly all know by now, you need two superpowers. The game this afternoon at RFK Stadium doesn't have one. It pits a semipower against a fading dynasty. The stakes are incredibly low. But somehow, the rivalry still is as intense as any Reagan-Gorbachev matchup.
At 1 p.m., the division-champion Washington Redskins (9-3) play the division-chump Dallas Cowboys (5-7). The game means nothing, unless one is prone to cheer for the Redskins' outside shot at home-field advantage in the playoffs, or Dallas' nearly impossible dream of a wild-card berth.
If the Redskins don't earn the home-field advantage for the playoffs, this will be their final game in RFK this season. If the Cowboys win their final three games and Minnesota loses its last three, Dallas would win a wild-card spot. The way Minnesota and the Cowboys are playing, though, no one considers that likely.
The last time a Redskins-Cowboys game meant so little was 1969, when Capitol Division champion Dallas beat Vince Lombardi's Redskins, 20-10, in a meaningless game the final day of the season. The teams have played 36 times since; each one meant something in the standings, often deciding a playoff spot or division title.
This contest is different. It will test the bounds of one of pro football's fiercest rivalries. Can the Redskins and Cowboys muster hatred for one another simply for the sake of hating one another? Apparently, the answer is yes.
"I still don't like to lose to the Redskins, no matter what's at stake," said veteran Cowboys linebacker Mike Hegman. "Nobody thinks we have a chance. I feel good about going out of town. I like playing at RFK Stadium. I think we need to get away."
"We just have an on-going feud with them," said Redskins defensive end Charles Mann. "This is our first opportunity to play them this season because of the strike, and we're excited about it."
The union Redskins are trying to do what the replacement Redskins did earlier this season: beat division rivals St. Louis, New York and Dallas in three weeks. In a normal season, this would be quite a feat. But this is not a normal season, and these are not normal times, especially for the Cowboys.
Vilified in the local media this week after a 21-10 loss to Atlanta at home, the Cowboys are happy to be escaping Texas, as Hegman said. But no matter where they go, they can't hide from the fact that they are a team in disarray.
They probably will start four rookies today: tackles Kevin Gogan and Daryle Smith (a former replacement player); right cornerback Ron Francis, and middle linebacker Ron Burton. Burton is starting in place of Eugene Lockhart, the Cowboys' best defensive player, who broke his leg last week.
Another rookie, top draft choice Danny Noonan, shares time at right defensive tackle with veteran Randy White, who has been bothered by a pinched nerve. Danny White will start at quarterback and Herschel Walker is the starting running back. Tony Dorsett will be used now and then, at Coach Tom Landry's whim.
If the Cowboys lose today, they will ensure a second consecutive losing season for a franchise that simply couldn't help but win throughout the late '60s, '70s and early '80s. The last consecutive losing seasons were 1963 and 1964.
"It's something you hate to see but it's something you have to work through," Landry said. "We're in a rebuilding program and, with the injuries we've had, it's hard to get the rebuilding program going."
Look at the Cowboys' offensive line. Smith at left tackle against defensive end Dexter Manley; Gogan at right tackle against defensive end Mann. Left guard Nate Newton, who weighs 315 pounds, is a first-year starter; right guard Crawford Ker is a second-year starter. Center Tom Rafferty is a 12-year veteran, probably wondering what is going on around him.
As one might expect, the Cowboys are coming to town with an attitude that they have absolutely nothing more to lose.
"The one good thing about this week, if there is a good thing about this week, is that there's no pressure on the Cowboys," said veteran wide receiver Mike Renfro. "I think the team is going to be loose."
If the outside world were allowed into Coach Joe Gibbs' team meetings this past week, it would have heard the flip side of Renfro's thoughts.
"The one thing that would be positive for them would be to beat the Washington Redskins," Mann said. "It would not do much for them, but it would be a sole positive in a negative season."
For the third consecutive game, the Redskins' veteran offensive line remains intact. The coaches believe that continuity should make the team run well. George Rogers will start at running back, with Kelvin Bryant expected on passing situations after missing last week with hamstring and ankle injuries.
Clarence Verdin has been brought off injured reserve and ex-replacement player Tim Jessie has been activated. Both will line up deep on kickoff returns, giving the Redskins a new look there with Keith Griffin out with a sore thigh. Verdin also will play wide receiver, and Jessie running back.
To make room for them, wide receiver Art Monk (right knee ligament) and guard Darrick Brilz (pinched nerve in right shoulder) were placed on injured reserve. Both must miss four weeks, which means Monk would be eligible to return for the Redskins' playoff game Jan. 9 or 10.