Cowboys and Redskins now just another game


IRVING, Texas -- It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the NFL scheduled the Washington Redskins to play the Dallas Cowboys on the next-to-the-last Sunday of the season, they made it a 4 p.m. start.

They figured it would be the second game of the CBS doubleheader with John Madden and Pat Summerall doing a game that would be critical to the playoff hopes of both teams.

Nobody dreamed that the Cowboys would be 17-point favorites over a Redskins team that is apparently heading toward its worst season in 30 years.

Today's game at Texas Stadium is the most lopsided on the oddsmakers' board this weekend.

That's why Madden and Summerall won't be on hand. They're in Phoenix doing the game between the Cardinals and the New York Giants. Instead, Jim Nantz and Randy Cross drew the assignment.

Where have you gone, Joe Gibbs and Tom Landry?

The Redskins-Cowboys, once one of the best rivalries the NFL, is now just another game.

"We'll show up," coach Richie Petitbon said early last week.

As it turned out, there was even some question whether the Redskins would show up.

The game almost became a casualty of the Redskins' fight with the NFL Players Association over the players' refusal to pay dues. With 37 Redskins still refusing to pay, the Redskins would have had trouble fielding a team if they had all been suspended.

Management avoided suspending them by declaring that because the Redskins' training complex is in Virginia, a right-to-work state, the players don't have to pay dues.

It's up to an arbitrator to decide whether the Redskins don't have to suspend them for Friday's season finale against the Minnesota Vikings. But the Virginia announcement was enough to get the Redskins onto the field for the Dallas game.

It now seems like a long time ago that the Redskins beat the Cowboys, 35-16, in the season opener. In retrospect, there should be an asterisk next to that game, because running back Emmitt Smith was holding out.

"That was probably their best game and our worst game," Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson said.

The next week, quarterback Mark Rypien was injured, and the Redskins haven't been the same since.

Rypien is back in the starting lineup for the second straight week, but he's rusty and not completely healthy. He completed only 13 passes for 129 yards last week against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Redskins were able to win last week with a pair of defensive touchdowns, but it will be difficult to beat the Cowboys that way.

For their part, the Cowboys are insisting they're not looking ahead to next week's game with the Giants, when the division title will likely be on the line. They're insisting it's a normal Washington-Dallas game.

"It was a typical Redskins game in 1989," Johnson said.

That was the year the Cowboys went 1-15 in Johnson's first season but posted their only victory of the year by beating the Redskins at RFK Stadium.

"If anyone thinks we'll overlook the Redskins because of their record, they're wrong," said Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who signed the richest contract in NFL history last week. "This is Washington, and we know how tough the series has been with the Redskins. We would never overlook them."

Smith, who figures to have a big day because the Redskins have had so much trouble stopping the run this season, said: "Washington is still a great team, and I've got a lot of respect for them. If we're not 100 percent, they can beat us."

It's difficult to judge the Redskins' mood coming into this game. The team has nothing to play for and was distracted by the dues hassle.

But safety Danny Copeland set the tone when he said this is the Redskins' Super Bowl.

Cornerback Darrell Green, who will duel wide receiver Michael Irvin in one of the better matchups in the league, said, "The motivation has to come from within us."

There's no secret about the key to this game. The Redskins have to stop Smith, whose cutback ability makes him dangerous even when he seems stopped at the line of scrimmage.

"Sometimes, you stop the play at the point of attack and he'll bounce it outside or he'll cut it back," said assistant head coach Larry Peccatiello, who's also in charge of the linebackers. "The ball can wind up anywhere."

If Smith has a big day, the oddsmakers could be right about this game.

Even Petitbon said, "I've often said those guys who make those lines are not bad."

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