Friday, September 15, 2006

Cowboys & Redskins: Part II - Aces Wild

Part II. Jurgensen vs. Meredith: Aces Wild
In the 1960's, the Cowboys steadily improved their team as general manager Tex Schramm provided coach Tom Landry with better and better talent. By 1966, they rose to a consistent playoff team with eight consecutive post-season appearances from 1966 through 1973. The Redskins, who hadn't made a playoff appearance since 1946, were stumbling their way to a 46-82-10 record through the decade often because Sonny Jurgensen and the offense couldn't outscore teams that the defense couldn't stop. It was frustrating for the team and the fans, but Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell and especially Jurgensen stoked the flames of hope. Author Jack Clary in the book Pro Football's Greatest Moments described Jurgensen. "In his prime, Sonny was the finest passer in the league. He consistently threw the ball farther, straighter, and with greater accuracy than Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenson, or Len Dawson ever did."

Dandy Don Meredith was the second starting quarterback in Cowboys history, finally supplanting Eddie LeBaron in 1965. Dallas would have better quarterbacks in its history, but Meredith was the first to lead them to a playoff appearance. Known for his leadership, Dandy Don affected a cowboy persona with a Texas drawl, a twinkle in his eye and mischievous smile to go along with a healthy sense of humor. He became a fan favorite in Dallas, and later, with the same personality, achieved national prominence as a member of the original Monday Night Football announcement crew.

In 1965 through 1967 Jurgensen and Meredith led their teams in four games that produced a combined total of 222 points with only 10 points of overall difference between the two teams.

November 28, 1965, DC Stadium. The Cowboys slapped the Skins with a 21-0 lead on a pass play, a running play and a 60 yard fumble recovery. Despite Jurgensen's 26 yard TD strike to Charley Taylor, the fans in the stands, as impatient as always, called for Sonny to be benched in favor of second string QB Dick Shiner. Jurgy drove the Redskins down field for a second touchdown to cut the Cowboys lead to 24-13. The Skins scored another touchdown on the ground to make it 24-20. Meredith tossed a 53 yard scoring strike to Frank Clarke. Against any other team the Redskins would have folded. Against the Cowboys, Jurgensen pulled another dart from his quiver with a 10 yard pass to Bobby Mitchell. Cowboys 31-27. The Boys couldn't move the ball but used a lot of clock. The Redskins got the ball on their 20 yard line with less than two minutes to go. Jurgy gained nine yards on a busted play. Chuck Howley was called for pass interference on the next play, then Jurgensen completed a 22 yard pass play to Jerry Smith. Next Jurgensen tossed a bomb to Bobby Mitchell that carried to the Dallas 5 yard line. Jurgensen's pass to tight end Angelo Coia gave the Redskins their first lead, 34-31, with about one minute to play.

Meredith was not done. He drove the Cowboys to the Redskins 37 yard line with seven seconds to go. With every orifice in every Redskins fan clinched tight, Danny Villaneuva attempted a tying field goal. It was blocked by Redskins defensive back Lonnie Sanders.

Jurgensen was 26 of 42 passes for 411 yards and 3 TD passes. He also ran for a score. The Redskins gained 51 yards on the ground.

November 13, 1966, DC Stadium. The Cowboys featured "the fastest man in football" in the person of Bob Hayes. He was dangerous. In the second quarter with the score 7-6 Dallas, Meredith threw a 52 yard touchdown bomb to Bullet Bob, followed in the third quarter with a 95 yard repeat. Cowboys 21-7. Washington scored three consecutive times with Jurgensen's 4 yard pass to Jerry Smith and 78 yard pass to Charlie Taylor, followed by a Charlie Gogolak field goal. Redskins 23-21. Meredith drove the Cowboys down field to set up a 1 yard TD run by Dan Reeves. The Skins came back on a drive ending with Jurgensen's 18 yard scoring toss to Charlie Taylor. Skins 30-28.

Meredith got the ball back with no timeouts and the Redskins playing deep prevent. He threw a 26 yard pass to Pete Gent. On the next play Meredith rolled out for a 12 yard gain and ran out of bounds, stopping the clock. The Redskins were 59 seconds from victory. Two plays to Walt Garrison were inconsequential. On third and nine, Meredith completed another pass to Pete Gent that carried the Cowboys to the Redskins 33. The Redskins mounted a strong pass rush to push the Cowboys out of field goal range. Meredith was hit just as he scrambled out of bounds. The penalty put the Boys on the Redskins 12 for an easy Villanueva field goal. Cowboys 31-30.

Meredith completed 21 of 28 passes for 406 yards and 2 TDs. Jurgensen was 26 of 35 for 347 yards and 3 scores.

December 11, 1966, The Cotton Bowl. The Redskins visited the Cowboys a short month later with memories fresh. The Redskins took a 10-7 lead at the half after linebacker John Reger recovered a block punt and ran it in for a score. Then the shootout commenced. Danny Villanueva kicked a tieing 26 yard field goal for the Cowboys and Bob Hays caught a 23 yard pass for for the 17-10 lead. The Redskins tied it up on Bobby Mitchell's 11 yard reception from Jurgensen. The Cowboys regained the lead when Dan Reeves stunned the Redskins with a 67 yard touchdown run. Cowboys 24-17. The Skins drove the field and scored on Jurgensen's 11 yard pass to Jerry Smith, only to have the Cowboys regain the lead with Don Perkins 6 yard touchdown run. Cowboys 31-24. Jurgensen hit Charlie Taylor with a 65 yard touchdown bomb that Taylor caught between two defenders. 31-31. The Skins got the ball back with two minutes to go.

From their 46 yard line, with the Cowboys defending the pass, Redskins running back A.D. Whitfield ran right for a 30 yard gain (fooled ya). The run set up Charlie Gogolak's winning field goal. Redskins 34-31.

October 8, 1967, DC Stadium. This was the lowest scoring of the four games. The Redskins led 14-10 with 70 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys took possession on their 29. Meredith completed a 17 yarder to Craig Baynham, who ran out of bounds. The next two plays were inconsequential. Meredith hit Lance Renzel for 12 yards and a second time for 6. On fourth down with 23 seconds remaining, Meredith hit an open Dan Reeves who beat out linebacker Chris Hanberger to score. Cowboys 17-14. After the kick-off with 7 seconds to go, Jurgensen pitched a long bomb (in the Cold War era, there were a lot of football references to "bombs") to Charlie Taylor, who was brought to ground at the Cowboys 20 yard line as time ran out.

Washington won the rematch in Dallas 27-20, but the ever more powerful Cowboys closed out the decade with four straight wins over the Skins. By the late 60's the Redskins had had enough. If the Cowboys could win with ex-Giants coordinator Tom Landry, then the Redskins would get an ex-Giants coordinator, too. They hired pugnacious Vince Lombardi to lead the team. Lombardi's 7-5-2 record with the Redskins was the team's first winning season in 14 years, but he was swept by the Cowboys. Lombardi's untimely death in 1970 froze Redskins development for two seasons.

Edward Bennett Williams, now in control of the Redskins, set out to make a coaching hire as groundbreaking as was Lombardi's. With his next choice, the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry went from storied to legendary.

Next, Part III - The Future Is Now!

Source: Clary, Jack, PRO FOOTBALL'S GREATEST MOMENTS, Bonanza Books, New York, New York, 1983

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