In Search Of True Identity

knowing at one time in their collective careers, back some 14 years ago, before they were the Triplets, before they were three-time Super Bowl champs, before they restored the Dallas Cowboys back to being the DALLAS COWBOYS, they too played on an identity-seeking team facing the Washington Redskins. 

They could take you back to Nov. 24, 1991, RFK Stadium. The Cowboys had not logged a winning season since 1985. They were but 27 games removed from consecutive seasons of 3-13 and then 1-15. Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones had yet to be accepted in these parts; yet to have distanced themselves from Landry and Schramm to create their own identity. 

Here the Cowboys were, but a tenuous 6-5, losers of two consecutive road games and having to play a third straight. And who should be awaiting these still Nowhere Boys, than the undefeated, 11-0 Washington Redskins, deemed 13-point favorites, causing those rabid 55,561 folks at RFK to properly affix their Hog snoots on high. 

"Everything was stacked against us," Johnson would later say when recounting the game in America's Rivalry

Lose, and that sixth consecutive losing season would be just around the corner. 

"We had not done anything yet to show we could be an above average football team," Aikman would say. 

Until that Sunday in the nation's Capital, when the Dallas Cowboys began the road back to being the Dallas Cowboys, when Michael Irvin really became Michael Irvin and the NFL finally had to seriously deal with the triple threat of Aikman, Irvin and Smith. 

Emmitt would rush for 132 yards that day, including a 32-yard touchdown run on a gusty third-and-15 draw call. Aikman would complete 13 of 20 passes for 204 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Harper, staking the Cowboys to a 14-7 lead before suffering a regular-season ending sprained knee five plays into the third quarter. 

And Irvin would basically have his NFL coming-out party facing Redskins legendary corner Darrell Green, catching nine passes for 130 yards, including what turned out to be the back-breaking 23-yard touchdown pass from backup Steve Beuerlein early in the fourth quarter. A Playmaker indeed was born. 

So, too, were the Cowboys in that 24-21 victory against what turned out to be the eventual Super Bowl champs who would only lose one more time that year, the season finale when Gibbs rested his starters. They would finish the season with a five-game winning streak, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1985 and then winning a playoff game for the first time since the 1982 strike-induced Super Bowl Tournament season. 

Johnson was on his way toward becoming one of those "guru" coaches. Jones was on his way toward becoming a maverick owner. Michael, Troy and Emmitt were on their way toward Ring of Honor, and likely Pro Football Hall of Fame, careers. 

And the Cowboys, well they had an identity again. For in that game they gambled on fourth downs, they executed an onside kick, they had the nerve to call a draw on third-and-15 and they actually threw a Hail Mary that was full of grace. The swagger was on it's way. 

So were five consecutive NFC East Division titles, and six in the next seven seasons; three Super Bowl titles in the next four years; four consecutive NFC Championship appearances; what turned out to be six consecutive winning seasons, and seven in the next eight. 

And who knew, but that game right there went a long way toward producing an electrical night like Monday night: Cowboys-Redskins, national TV, Ring of Honor ceremony, franchise reunion of stars, all sure to unleash gooseflesh-raising memories of who the Cowboys once were. 

As good as it gets? 

Only if these 2005 Dallas Cowboys can take a step toward establishing just who they are.   

MICK SHOTS

 
  Since the Redskins will start Mark Brunell, the lefty, his blindside will be protected by right tackle Jon Jansen, who is listed as questionable, but still expected to play with some sort of approved protective covering over his two broken thumbs.

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