No one can isolate exactly when the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry turned mean and nasty and then got worse. The feud became so all-embracing that not even straight-arrow Roger Staubach escaped being involved.
Staubach became embroiled in a frosty standoff with Diron Talbert over what he perceived as a Talbert insult after Washington beat the Cowboys in the 1972 NFC Championship Game, 26-3. Staubach never forgot or forgave and as for Talbert, the tough-nut Texan never stopped needling the Dallas quarterback.
Rank The Rivalries
Where would you rank Pats-Colts among these five NFL rivalries? SportsNation lets you rank 'em.
The genesis of the Staubach-Talbert duel lay thousands of miles west in Los Angeles. During a preseason game there, Staubach made a knothead decision. Instead of scrambling out of bounds, he challenged linebacker Marlin McKeever. The collision dislocated his right shoulder and kept him inactive during the regular season except for token passes in December.
Craig Morton led the Cowboys into a divisional playoff in San Francisco, and the game went so poorly that coach Tom Landry inserted Staubach late in the third quarter. It didn't seem to matter to me from the Candlestick Park press box because the 49ers led, 28-16, and the Cowboys were punting with four-plus minutes left.
I left the press box with other writers for the locker room. We walked behind the stands, blocked from the field, to reach an elevator in the end zone. As we boarded, a guy with a transistor radio said, "Cowboys have scored.'' When we disembarked, the radio guy said, "Cowboys have the ball!''
We headed for a corridor that led to the field, but were stopped by a guard. "Let's rush him!'' someone shouted. The guard dropped his hand to a pistol on his hip. That stopped us.
"Cowboys scored again!'' the radio man exclaimed. The Cowboys came whooping into their locker room, 30-28 winners thanks to a Staubach-inspired rally. This left me with the oddest post-game task in my 40-plus years of NFL coverage.
I began interviews by asking players, "Ah, please tell me how you scored two touchdowns I didn't see.''
Landry chose to sit Morton and start Staubach the next week in Washington with the NFC title at stake. This time the magic was missing. Staubach and the Cowboys' offense imploded, netting only 76 yards passing and 96 rushing.
Defensive tackle Talbert reached a logical conclusion that made Staubach fume anyway.
"They just had the wrong guy in there,'' Talbert said. "He (Staubach) was rusty and couldn't find his secondary receivers.''
More Talbert comments raised Staubach's temperature:
"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.''
Ice set in between the two. Both were team captains and during pre-game coin flips for years thereafter they refused to shake hands. They also exchanged insults.
"I guess the way a mediocre defensive tackle can get some publicity is by bad-mouthing the other quarterback,'' Staubach said.
Talbert supposedly challenged Staubach's manhood by calling him a term guaranteed to anger.
Tempers ran so high in a subsequent Washington-Dallas game that Staubach admitted cursing and committed a personal foul against the Redskins' Pat Fischer, the only one of his NFL career.
I always assumed Staubach hit Fischer out of bounds because he couldn't find Talbert.
Frank Luksa is a freelance writer based in Plano, Texas. He was a longtime sports columnist for The Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News.