Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ruminations On A Revived Rivalry

This afternoon, at around 3:00, I walked into my neighborhood Harris Teeter for a quick pre-game grocery run. I was wearing my Art Monk practice jersey that I got after the 'Skins won the Super Bowl some seventeen years ago. Approaching the door of the store was a man, about my age, wearing a Troy Aikman jersey. He spotted me and immediately started booing loudly. A little amiable jawing ensued - we laughed, and he went for the beer while I veered into the produce section.

It's tough to capture the full meaning of a rivalry, especially one as intense as the 'Skins-Cowboys rivalry, and explain it to someone who isn't a sports fan, or is a fan of a team that doesn't really have a rival. It's "us vs. them" to the extreme. It's the Apocalypse, good vs. evil, and you're a part of it two weeks per year.

But a rivalry is a relationship, and it needs constant contribution from both fan bases and both teams to keep the passion alive. It needs fans to boo at each other, it needs teams to play spirited, interesting contests, it needs characters to keep us engaged. And for too long, neither the Redskins nor the Cowboys were doing their part. The 'Skins lost 14 of 15 contests to the Cowboys, which threatened to turn the rivalry into Tennessee-Vanderbilt. But more worrisome than that was the complete and utter unhateability of the late '90s-early '00s Cowboys. I mean, who can really say they hate Chan Gailey? Or Dave Campo? Or Clint Stoerner? You're in trouble when keeping up the rivalry means ginning up an honest hatred for Joey Galloway. So eventually the rivalry became, well, less interesting. The 'Skins, battered as they were, began to get a wandering eye - some fans even suggested cheating on the 'Boys with the Santa-haters up I-95 in Philly.

And just when things were at their worst, wonderful things began to happen. Bill Parcells - someone actually worth hating - showed up in Dallas. Terrell Owens soon followed. Terrence Newman joined the Cowboys, as did Roy Williams. The Cowboys had people to hate again.

And then the spark that reignited the flame - Redskins 14, Cowboys 13, the Santana Moss double-bomb game where the 'Skins scored two late touchdowns in Dallas to come back and steal the game. The rivalry was officially back. Several instant classics have followed since. Modern fans can recall the Sean Taylor blocked field goal game, the Jason Campbell pick game. And today's game - 'Skins 26, 'Boys 24, Campbell's coming-out party.

I remember how great this rivalry was growing up - how I cheered for Art Monk and Gary Clark and Earnest Byner and Joe Gibbs against characters like Aikman and Emmitt and Michael Irvin and Leon Lett and Jimmy Johnson. And now? We have iconic, likable guys like Clinton Portis, Campbell, Chris Cooley, Moss. They have iconic, dislikeable guys like Newman, Williams, future reality TV star Tony Romo, and Owens. The Apocalypse is back, and for fans of both teams, that's a wonderful thing.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I agree. You forget also the acquisition of Adam "No One Will Ever Stop Calling You Pacman" Jones. (Of course, if the best thing you've got on Romo is "future reality TV star", we better trade Jason Taylor in a hurry.)

That 14-13 game in 2005 was fantastic, especially since me and my AI partner (a Cowboys fan) were watching it in the computer lab on my tiny portable TV and left when the score was 13-0 with me congratulating him on a game well-played.

Your anecdote highlights what I think is a key point of the rivalry: for the most part, there's no true vitriol between the respective fans. Most of the banter is done with a playful seriousness - we still want to win, but we know nothing beats a good hard-fought 'Skins-'Boys match. No one takes me seriously when I describe the Cowboys as the spawns of Satan (even though I mean it). This is also why "cheating on the 'Boys" with the Eagles would have been a colossally bad idea: the Eagles don't quite have a monopoly on asshole fans, but they definitely own Boardwalk, Park Place, and all the railroads.

Aaaaaah, it's good to be back.