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Cowboys, Steelers rivalry has been one for the ages

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers used to have the league’s best rivalry as they battled for NFL supremacy in the 1970s.

Black and gold vs. blue and silver. Blue-collar grit vs. glitz and flash. Physical football vs. finesse football.

The Super Bowls were epic matches with great players who were famous enough to be known by one name.

Staubach. Drew. Bradshaw. Franco. Dorsett. Swann. Mean Joe.

Even the coaches were famous enough to go by only their last names: Landry. Noll.

The teams met in the Super Bowl twice in the 1970s and Pittsburgh won both games en route to four titles, earning the Steelers "Team of the Decade" status.

“It’s one of the great rivalries in all of sports, and it’s been like that long before I showed up here,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They played against each other in the ’70s: two marquee franchises that were winning the Super Bowl.

“You think about the Hall of Fame coaches and the Hall of Fame players, and they were really remarkable teams. You think about those names that played on some of those teams -- some of the best that ever walked -- and I think in so many ways that drew so many [people] to football.

The rivalry continued into the ’90s as the teams met in Super Bowl XXX with the Cowboys winning and finally exacting some revenge against Pittsburgh’s franchise. Since then, the rivalry has moved to the back burner because the teams only play every four seasons.

Dallas last played in Pittsburgh eight seasons ago. While the rivalry isn’t as intense on the field with the infrequent meetings, the fan bases still remember the intensity.

Each team’s fan base bickers over which franchise is the greatest. The Steelers have won six Super Bowls, including two since the Cowboys’ last title after the 1995 season.

The Steelers have 10 players from their Super Bowl teams of the ’70s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with president Dan Rooney and founder Art Rooney. The Cowboys have five players from that era in the Hall as well as owner Tex Schramm and coach Tom Landry

Garrett said he tries to teach his players, many of whom were born in the ’90s, about the game’s history, especially as it relates to the Cowboys.

“I can’t say I know a whole lot about it,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said as he tugged on his beard.

Linebacker Anthony Hitchens didn’t know much about the history between the teams either.

“They played in the Super Bowl, right?” he asked.

When told they met in the ’70s, Hitchens said, “Sheesh, that was a long time ago. I was born in 1992. I remember the Cowboys’ rivalry with San Francisco, but not the Steelers.

“I grew up in Cleveland, and I didn’t even watch football that much because the Browns weren’t good. I was more of a basketball fan.”

One player who does know a lot about the rivalry is linebacker Sean Lee, a Pittsburgh native who had posters of the famed Steel Curtain and Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert on the walls of his college dorm.

“I grew up watching the Steelers and watching those defenses in the mid ’90s,” Lee said. “It’ll be fun for me.

“I was a big fan of Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene. I liked Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake. I loved those great defenses in the ’90s. I was the kid bringing the "Here We Go" Steelers fight song to recess in the third grade.”

Lee’s father taught him to love the Steelers.

“My dad would talk to me about the ’70s Steelers, and I was constantly told stories about them and how great they were,” he said. “There was a certain way we were taught to play from a young age, and that’s hard-nosed, that’s blue collar, that’s playing the right way: physical, tough, playing with a certain amount of intensity.

“That’s something that, when I was young and 9 years old, that was the only thing my dad talked about. He didn’t really care about the outcome. He cared about how I played the game, whether I was playing the right way or not.”

On Sunday, Lee will use those lessons to add his own narrative to what has been one of the NFL’s best rivalries.