IRVING, Texas -- It'll be like old times tonight at Texas Stadium.
Call it the nostalgia bowl.
"I think both teams are going to find out a lot about themselves Monday night. That's the way I feel about it," said Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Redskins defense.
There was a time with both teams always found a lot about themselves when they played each other.
They found out most of all that they hated each other.
"I think Dallas and the Redskins will always be special," said Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. "I think it's a thing that's built up over time. It goes back to George Allen and [Diron] Talbert and [Roger] Staubach and people like that. I think those things are carried down through time."
When Allen became coach of the Redskins in 1971, he made a crusade out of beating the Cowboys because they were the best team in the division.
"What Allen added was the Tabasco," former Cowboys president Tex Schramm once said.
Talbert helped, too.
After the Redskins' 26-3 victory in the 1972 NFC title game, Talbert uttered the comment that lit a match to the rivalry. Since Staubach came off the bench after a long layoff because of an injury to rally the Cowboys to a playoff victory the previous week, coach Tom Landry started Staubach over Craig Morton against the Redskins.
After the Redskins beat the Cowboys, Talbert said: "I was surprised they started Staubach. But I'm awfully glad they did. I thought the other guy [Morton] could have done a better job."
Staubach, a fierce competitor, seethed. It was a point of honor to him that he never lost another game to Washington with a division title on the line.
Explaining why he liked to scramble against the Redskins, Staubach once said: "I did it because of Talbert. I knew Talbert hated quarterbacks who ran. So I'd run."
Mostly, though, Staubach beat them with his arm. In Staubach's last regular-season game in 1979, John Riggins ran 66 yards for a touchdown to put the Redskins ahead, 34-21, with 6 minutes, 54 seconds left in the game.
"I wasn't even here, and I remember Riggins breaking that run," Gibbs said. "It looked like it was a gut cinch. That thing was over with. And then to see them come back like that."
Staubach pulled it out with two touchdowns passes, 35-34, to win the division title and knock the Redskins out of the playoffs.
"A lot of those things are what adds to the rivalry. Some of the younger guys [players] may not remember that, but all the people [fans] do. It's not only my memories, but it's everybody in Washington and Dallas. It'd be like if you were playing somebody in golf. You play them 10 times and some little things build up in there. You get to the point where you're going, 'I want to be these guys so bad.' You have teams that build up real desire to beat each other."
For a long time, it was the best rivalry in pro football. There was the 1974 Thanksgiving game that the Cowboys won, 24-23, on a last-minute touchdown pass by backup quarterback Clint Longley.
There was the "No, Danny, No" game (1983) when Danny White went for a key fourth-down against Landry's instructions.
There was Joe Theismann running out of the end zone holding the ball aloft at the end of a 9-5 victory in 1978, and the Dallas fans singing "Happy Birthday" to Theismann at the end of a 44-14 victory in 1985.
Gibbs' favorite memory of the series is the Redskins' 31-17 victory in the 1982 NFC title game that vaulted them into his first Super Bowl.
"I never quite heard our stadium like that ever," Gibbs said.
The rivalry started to fade in the past few years as the Cowboys hit bottom. Beating the New York Giants became more important than beating the Cowboys.
But the Redskins still have had trouble with the Cowboys. Landry's last victory in a 3-13 year in 1988 came against Washington. Jimmy Johnson's first win in a 1-15 season in 1989 came in Washington. The Redskins were embarrassed on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas last year.
Now the Cowboys want to do more than embarrass the Redskins. They want to prove they're better than the Redskins.
Johnson, who was brought in by his old college roommate, Jerry Jones, when Jones bought the team and fired Landry, has quickly rebuilt the team. Using the bumper crop of draft choices he got in the Steve Walsh and Herschel Walker deals, he brought the team back from a 1-15 first season to 7-9 last season and a 26-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns in this season's opener. Quarterback Troy Aikman has won the past five starts he's finished.
Johnson is aiming for the playoffs. "I don't think anybody is looking for anything less than the playoffs," Johnson said.
But skeptics question whether the Cowboys really are contenders. The Cowboys parlayed the fifth-place schedule -- including a pair of victories over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- into the 7-9 mark last season. They were 1-5 against the Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Redskins.
A victory over the Redskins in a big Monday night game would be a sign that they're for real.
For the Redskins, a victory would mean a 2-0 start. That would be important for a club that is noted for starting slowly. Only twice in Gibbs' first 10 years did the Redskins win their first two games. The first time, in 1982, they went on to win the Super Bowl. The second time, in 1986, they went to the NFC title game.
That's why tonight's game has an aura. It'll be one for the fans to savor.
Site: Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas. Time: 9 p.m.
TV: Channels 13, 7. Radio: WCAO (600 AM), WMAL (630 AM)
Line: Redskins by 2 1/2
Last meeting: Troy Aikman passed for 222 yards and Emmitt Smith ran for 132 yards, as the Cowboys upset the Redskins, 27-17, on Nov. 22. The Redskins, playing their third game in 10 days, took a 17-10 lead in the third quarter but then seemed to wilt, as the Cowboys scored the last 17 points.
The series: Dallas has a 34-24-2 edge, although the Redskins have won 6 of the past 9 games,including a strike victory. The last time either team swept a pair of non-strike games was in 1985, when the Cowboys won both games.
On the sidelines: Joe Gibbs, in his 11th season, has a 114-55 record. Jimmy Johnson, in his third season, is 9-24. Johnson is second in seniority behind Gibbs in the NFC East, even though he's starting his third year. Gibbs is tied for 14th on the all-time list with Don Coryell in career coaching victories. He needs 4 victories to tie George Allen for 13th place.
What the Redskins have to do to win: Contain Aikman and Smith. Their defense had the lead in the second half last Thanksgiving but couldn't stop Aikman from throwing and Smith from running, as they came from behind. Their run defense was shaky in the exhibition season and didn't have to face Barry Sanders in the opener, so Smith could be a major challenge.
What the Cowboys have to do to win: Exploit CB Martin Mayhew. The Lions made the curious decision to throw at veteran CB Darrell Green last week, and Green picked off 2 passes. That explains why most teams avoid Green. Mayhew struggled all during the preseason, and the Cowboys want to see if speedster Alexander Wright can burn him.
Injury report: For the Redskins, LB Kurt Gouveia (knee) and RB Ricky Ervins (knee) are probable. For the Cowboys, G Kevin Gogan (ankle) is probable.
Outlook: The Redskins are notorious for having a letdown after a good performance. If they do that again, the Cowboys could win. But if the Redskins take the Cowboys seriously and play to their potential, they have too much experience for this young but improving team.