WASHINGTON -- They should bring back Howard Cosell for this one.
In a game that sparks memories of the days when "Monday Night Football" was a happening with Cosell doing the hype at the top of the show, the Washington Redskins play host to the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium tonight.
They don't get much bigger than this in the NFL. The Redskins and Cowboys not only are two of the biggest rivals in the league, but they have won the past two Super Bowls.
Even the absence of Emmitt Smith, who is holding out in his attempt to become the highest-paid running back, doesn't detract from the game. It adds another dimension.
The Cowboys want to prove they can win without Smith, while the Redskins know if they can't beat the Smith-less Cowboys they may not be good enough to be super this year.
There's so much lore in this rivalry that it's always a big one even when it's not a Monday night opener. It brings back memories of Ken Houston's tackle, Clint Longley's pass and Roger Staubach's comeback in his regular-season finale.
Even the aftermath is sometimes memorable. There was Harvey Martin throwing the funeral wreath in the Redskins' locker room in 1979 (a Dallas fan sent it to him pretending to be a Redskins fan), the Dallas fans mocking Joe Theismann by singing "Happy Birthday" to him on his 36th birthday at the end of a 44-14 Dallas win in 1985 and coach Jimmy Johnson blowing up on the plane ride home after last year's loss.
The fact that the winner will have an early leg up in the division (NFC East) that has produced the past three Super Bowl champions just adds fuel to the fire.
"The game could set the tempo for the season," Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman said.
There's no lack of confidence -- it could even be called arrogance -- on either side.
The Cowboys think their system is so good it can overcome Smith's absence.
Owner Jerry Jones, who insists that the looming salary cap prevents him from making Smith the highest-paid running back, said: "This team isn't a house of cards built where one individual could hold it hostage. This is what I like about the game. It takes a lot of players to be successful."
Johnson will at least concede that the Cowboys aren't as good without Smith, but he has said since training camp started that he'll win in Washington with the players he brings.
Johnson also likes to brag about how the Cowboys operation -- in which he and Jones run the team together -- is superior to that of other teams.
Although the two men sometimes clash -- mainly over which is most responsible for the team's success -- Johnson said they have "the best working relationship of anybody in the league."
He added: "We don't have decisions by committee. You don't have a [former New York Giants coach] Bill Parcells going to George Young and George Young going to [Wellington] Mara or [Robert] Tisch. You don't have a [Richie] Petitbon go to [Charley] Casserly and Casserly go to [Jack Kent] Cooke. You have a different situation. There's no middle man. There's not a third wheel. We get things done."
Of course, the Giants and Redskins get things done, too. They've combined to win five Super Bowls since 1982.
The Redskins like their system. Cooke believes in an organization run by a general manager. He's won with both Bobby Beathard and Casserly in that role.
The Redskins have no lack of confidence, either. Petitbon certainly shows no sign of being intimidated by the task of replacing Joe Gibbs.
At the teams' Welcome Home Luncheon a week ago, he all but predicted the team was going to win the Super Bowl.
Petitbon did show some signs of being uptight last week as he closed practices to the media. He also answered questions tersely.
"Buy a ticket," was his answer to questions about his game plans.
The Redskins can only hope their plans -- which are expected to feature a two-back set and a short passing game -- work better than they did in last year's Monday night opener in Dallas.
That's when they came up with the idea of running the no-huddle against Dallas. Not the Buffalo Bills' no-huddle with a small number of plays, but the entire range of their offense.
They overlooked one thing. The Dallas fans had changed. In the Tom Landry era, the Dallas fans tended to be similar to a Camden Yards crowd, polite Yuppies who didn't show much passion. Jones, though, has attracted a younger, more raucous crowd. They were so noisy the Redskins couldn't hear their signals. The no-huddle couldn't function and the Redskins lost, 23-10.
The Redskins got their revenge in December, edging the Cowboys, 20-17, in one of those classic games that are so typical of this series. Jason Buck caused an Aikman fumble in the end zone late in the game that Danny Copeland recovered for the winning touchdown.
The game didn't mean much for the Cowboys because they were running away with the division, but Johnson still was irate. He blew up on the plane going home and chewed out the players after they returned to Dallas. Aikman was quoted as saying the team was near "mutiny" over Johnson's behavior.
Aikman doesn't want to talk about that now. "I'm not interested in going back to 1992. Whatever took place or Jimmy's reaction a year ago doesn't have anything to do with what we do this year," he said.
Now the Cowboys have to try to win without Smith because the talks are still bogged down. Although Jones increased his offer to four years at $11 million ($2.75 million a year), Smith wants to at least match Thurman Thomas' $3.375 million-a-year figure.
Aikman, though, looks forward to the visit to RFK even without Smith.
"It's wild at RFK and that's why I like playing there. It's a great football stadium. The fans get on you. It's fun being in all that hostility," he said.
One thing is a safe bet. It'll be wild and hostile tonight at RFK.
NOTES: This is the third time since 1987 the previous two Super Bowl winners have met in the Monday night opener; the home team won the last two. In the 1987 opener, the 1985 champion Bears beat the '86 champion Giants, 34-19, in Chicago and in the 1991 opener, the '90 champion Giants beat the '89 champion San Francisco 49ers, 16-14, at Giants Stadium. . . . LB Andre Collins (knee) isn't expected to play for the Redskins tonight, which will mean a bigger role for Rick Graf and Monte Coleman.