WASHINGTON -- When Charles Mann was asked last week about his most vivid memory of the Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys rivalry, he quickly said, "Dexter knocking Danny White out."
For many followers of the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry, no further explanation is needed.
Dexter Manley knocking out White in the 1982 NFC title game was one of the key plays in the Redskins' 31-17 victory that sent them on to the Super Bowl.
What's interesting about Mann mentioning that play is that it happened the year before he was drafted by the Redskins, but he's heard about it so often that he almost feels he was there.
"It's kind of a memory of a lot of the older guys around here," he said.
That's the essence of the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry, which once was said to be the best in the NFL and may yet be again.
When the teams play today at RFK Stadium, it may be the biggest game in the rivalry since 1983, when the Redskins and Cowboys were both 12-2.
The Redskins won, 31-10, in what became known as the "No, Danny, no" game and went to their second straight Super Bowl.
That was the game when White tried to draw the Redskins offside on a fourth-down play in the second half. If he failed, he was supposed to let the clock expire and punt. Instead, he called a running play as coach Tom Landry yelled, "No, Danny, no." The Redskins stuffed it, took over and scored and turned it into a rout.
Mann was a rookie then and has vivid memories of that play. He remembers his teammates saying, "Don't jump [offside], don't jump."
"I was a rookie and I'm saying, 'I can't mess up,' " Mann said. "It seemed like the longest play in the world. He just kept saying, 'hut, HUT,' and then he called an audible and I shot out like a missile. We stacked up the play."
"That was one of the most poised plays I've seen us make," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "We should have jumped, really."
That play was immediately added to the memory book of the rivalry along with Clint Longley's pass and Roger Staubach's comeback and Ken Houston's tackle and George Allen licking his fingers.
Unfortunately, the rivalry then started to fade.
"It died until last year," Mann said. "I think it died because we went on to Super Bowls and they were in a rebuilding stage and firing Tom Landry and it wasn't the same Dallas we learned to hate."
They could still irritate the Redskins, though. The Dallas fans sang "Happy Birthday" to Joe Theismann at the end of a 44-14 rout in 1985, Landry got his last victory at RFK in 1988 and Jimmy Johnson got his first victory there in 1989.
But what rekindled the rivalry was the Cowboys upsetting the 11-0 Redskins, 24-21, last year. That probably cost the Redskins a perfect season. The Cowboys then embarrassed the Redskins, 23-10, in the season opener this year.
That set the stage for today's game as the Cowboys come into RFK as the up-and-coming team with a 11-2 record. They're ready to start a new era with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. The Redskins are supposedly the fading, aging team that has struggled at 8-5.
Despite all that, the Redskins are a 3 1/2 -point favorite.
"That's one of the more ridiculous things I've seen," Gibbs said.
The point spread is a tribute to the fact the Redskins are still the defending champs and the young Cowboys haven't yet played in a game of this magnitude on the road against an old rival that can't afford to lose.
This could be a turning point for both teams. A Cowboys sweep would eliminate whatever doubts remain about them being a Super Bowl-caliber team.
The Redskins, by contrast, have shown they know how to survive and win games like this and want to show they can still do it. They also have burning memories of that embarrassing loss in the opener.
"That was about as much a nightmare as I've seen," Gibbs said. "Nothing seemed to go right."
Gibbs also second-guesses himself for getting too sophisticated that game, going with the no-huddle offense on the road in front of a noisy crowd. "I think some of the decisions I made turned out just the opposite of what I had thought," he said. "That was one of the more shocking games I've ever coached."
Gibbs isn't tipping his hand about whether he'll try the no-huddle against the Cowboys again or stick with a more conventional attack.
In any case, this game will renew an old rivalry and be a barometer of where these two teams are now.
The Redskins will find out today if they still know how to win games like this.
NOTES: The Redskins activated rookie tight end Ray Rowe from the practice squad yesterday, and moved safety David Gulledge to the practice squad. The Redskins want more depth at tight end because Terry Orr has a knee injury that may slow him.