It all began with a song. When Texas oil baron Clint Murchison sought to start a new NFL franchise in Dallas in 1960, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall resisted the plan, fearing the new team would encroach on his Southern fan base. But Murchison has a trick up his sleeve: He bought the rights to Washington’s beloved theme song, “Hail To The Redskins.” Marshall folded in order to get his theme song back, and the rest is history.
And what a hateful history the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry has been: In an NFC full of proud teams, these squads have a particular antipathy toward each other. Under the legendary leadership of coaches like Joe Gibbs and Tom Landry, each team’s success has seemed to come at the other’s expense. Over years of division play, the tension between these franchises has blossomed into one of the most compelling rivalries in NFL history – and a matchup worth watching in any season.
Over the course of their long-standing conflict, however, which team has gotten the better hand more often? We ran to the numbers to find out, tracking results of the teams’ meetings from 1960 through the end of the 2017 regular season. Our findings show which fan base owns bragging rights currently – and which team has trounced the other through the decades.
Hail to the Cowboys?
For the first several years of this budding rivalry, the teams kept things competitive. The enmity between fans was already well-established by then: In 1961, Cowboys partisans snuck onto the Redskins field and scattered chicken feed. (The eventual plan to release chickens mid-game was later foiled.) By the ’70s, however, the Cowboys had no need for antics: They opened up a sizeable lead in head-to-head competition with Tom Landry at the helm. In fact, Dallas achieved a winning record in every season from 1966 to 1985, a heyday the Redskins simply couldn’t compete with.
Though the Redskins won back-to-back NFL Championships in 1982 and 1983 and added another in 1991, they couldn’t close the historical gap with their rival. Then, as Dallas soared in the ’90s (Super Bowls in ’92, ’93, and ’95), their lead on Washington widened. In recent years, the Redskins haven’t fared much better, winning their division just twice since 2000. At the latest point in our data, the gap between teams was as big as it has ever been, with the Cowboys 26 games in front in head-to-head play historically.
A Good Day for a Grudge Match
Though the Cowboys have triumphed more often over the course of the entire rivalry, some days of the week have been kinder to the Redskins than others. On Monday nights, for instance, the record between these teams was nearly even – perhaps Washington steps up when playing on this weeknight. Conversely, however, the Redskins had a miserable record on Thursday nights, including a 38-14 weeknight loss in 2017.
Sundays saw 17 more wins go to Dallas, a figure that accounts for much of the current 26-game win gap between these franchises. Interested fans will notice the teams recorded two ties on Sundays as well. Though the overtime rules are a source of perennial controversy throughout the league, you can imagine they’re particularly frustrating when games between these clubs conclude without a victor.
The Rivalry Remains
Of course, the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry has its detractors as well. Some say Washington has been eclipsed by the success of the other teams in the AFC East – the Giants and Eagles. But even if the Redskins have been experiencing an extended period of irrelevance, don’t expect the Cowboys to get a warm reception next time they venture north to D.C. Whatever their records may be, these teams summon decades of hate each time they match up on the gridiron.
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To compile the data presented in this project, we utilized information from pro-football-reference.com, a database of historical statistics on the performance of professional football teams and players. We included information only from games in which the Cowboys and Redskins competed against each other, dating from October 2016 through December 2017. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on raw win totals alone.