FRISCO, Texas –Darn those Green Bay Packers.
Here they are again, showing up Sunday at AT&T Stadium, inevitably always snooping around at inopportune times it seems for the Dallas Cowboys.
Never fails, and this time is no different, coming in here at 3-1, with the Cowboys only treading water over the first four games of this 2017 season at 2-2. One week the Cowboys win, one week the Cowboys lose, back and forth. No consistency … yet … leaving so many of you hoping and doubting at the same time.
And with a bye coming up next week, and then three of the next four games on the road, two of those against first-place teams – Kansas City and Atlanta – the Cowboys really need to inch their noses above water, not only to reach 3-2 early this season, but to just feel good about themselves.
The entire affair starts at 3:25 p.m. in what Fox calls "America's Game," and indeed this is "America's Game," pitting "America's Team" vs. "America's Heartland Darlings."
You know, going all the way back to the Cowboys' 1960 inception for their very first meeting with Vince Lombardi's Packers, this will be the 36th overall game between the two teams, the NFL mainstay Packers winning the first six meetings before the Cowboys finally broke through on appropriately Thanksgiving Day in 1970. Even so, the Pack won eight of the first nine.
As it stands now, Green Bay holds a 14-13 regular-season advantage over the Cowboys, with each team also winning four of their eight postseason games, including – most painfully – the Packers taking the first two and the last two in what qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment for you guys.
I mean, heck, you can go back to the 1966 season when the Cowboys finally, finally, in their seventh season broke through with the franchise's first winning record. Not only did Dallas go 10-3-1 that season to win the Eastern Conference title and qualify for the NFL Championship Game, but the winner was to play the American Football League's champ for the first time ever in what eventually became known as the Super Bowl.
And what happens?
With the Cowboys trailing the Packers, 34-27, in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day, 1967 – oh my gosh, 50 years ago – they had the ball on the Green Bay 2-yard line with 45 seconds to play, fourth down. And hence the cruelty began, Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith, under immense pressure from blitzing Packers linebacker Dave Robinson, desperately heaves up what he was hoping to be the game-tying touchdown. The pass was intercepted by Green Bay safety Tom Brown in the back of the end zone. Ball game, the Packers winning the second of three consecutive NFL titles and heading happily to Los Angeles for that first Super Bowl.
Next year, I'll be darned, the Cowboys go 9-5, win what was then called the Capitol Division, then beat Cleveland in the Eastern Conference title game to advance once again to the NFL Championship Game. But who should they meet, but the Packers again, and the likes of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley et al, for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
And you know all too well what happened in the Ice Bowl New Year's Eve, 1967, with the Cowboys leading this time, 17-14, Green Bay facing third-and-goal at the Cowboys 1 with just 16 seconds left and no timeouts, the game coming down to one play for the title. And instead of attempting a field goal on what then became known as "the Frozen Tundra," Lombardi decided to go for it all, Starr QB-sneaking into the end zone for the victory, the NFL title and a second trip to the Super Bowl.
Now, the Cowboys turned the tables on the Packers, beginning in 1978, winning 12 of the next 14 meetings, including eight straight from 1991-96. That streak included playoff victories in 1993 (divisional round), 1994 (divisional round) and the 1995 NFC title game.
Maybe what happened from there on has been payback for what took place in 1988. Both teams went into the final game that season with 3-12 records, tied for the worst record in the NFL. The Cowboys had to play Philadelphia. The Packers, having won only their third game that season the previous week, were playing the Cardinals. At stake was the first pick in the 1989 draft, both in desperate need of a franchise-type quarterback, the Cowboys struggling along with Steve Pelluer and the Packers with Don Majkowski. The Cowboys lost, 23-7. But the Packers, hallelujah, won, beat Phoenix, 26-17, bequeathing the Cowboys the first pick in the 1989 draft.
Uh, Troy Aikman.
I kid you not about these teams' history being intertwined so tightly, at times in the cruelest of fashions.
Then the Packers fortunes turned back around by 1997. The Cowboys were 6-5 that season, desperately needing a victory this brutally cold day in Green Bay. The Packers, now the defending Super Bowl champs, were 8-3. And they dramatically changed Cowboys history, spanking the team that had turned into their early '90s nemesis for six straight seasons, 45-17. The Cowboys would never win another game that year, finishing 6-10, getting Barry Switzer fired and starting that downward spiral of only two winning seasons over the next nine years, and ultimately winning just two playoff games between 1997 and now (2009 and 2014), 20 total years.
See what I mean?
The Packers, inflictors of Dallas pain.
Oh, and that's not the end of it, either. Like, you do remember Super Bowl XLV, right? The first one ever staged in North Texas, this one at the then brand-spanking new AT&T Stadium following the 2010 season. The Cowboys had raised hopes in 2009, qualifying for the NFC Divisional Round playoff game, one victory away from their first NFC title game since 1995, only to lose badly at Minnesota. So 2010 was going to be the year, the Cowboys hoping to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium. Yeah, right, the Cowboys lose Tony Romo for the season in the sixth game, finishing 6-10, and who should qualify for and then win Super Bowl XLV in the Cowboys' backyard.
Yep, the Green Bay Packers.
Now to some, this all might seem like the Ancient and Medieval History Class I once took. But gosh darn, even the Millennials are up to snuff on recent history. Like the Packers winning six of the last seven meetings between the two teams, and eight of the last 12 since the Cowboys won a regular-season game in 1996.
Of course, there was a measure of Cowboys solace gained last year when they actually defeated the Packers, 30-16, and at Lambeau Field of all places, only the second time … ever … they had won a game up there in their now 58-year history.
But the pain of those past two playoff losses still runs deep:
- The Catch-No-Catch Game in the NFC Divisional Round that 12-4, 2014 season with the Cowboys one win away from their first NFC title game appearance since 1995. For the Cowboys, this was Pain Bowl, Tony Romo, with the Cowboys trailing 26-21 and facing fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 32, completing a 31-yard pass to Dez Bryant to the Packers 1 with 4:06 remaining, only to have the officiating crew, conferring with NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino in New York, overturn the catch – yes, sorry, it's still a catch Cheeseheads – into a completion and ultimately sending the Packers to Seattle for the NFC title game instead.
- The Play Game, once again with the Cowboys one step away from the elusive NFC Championship Game this past 2016, magical 13-3 season with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leading the way, and the game at AT&T Stadium this time. With the Cowboys recovering from an early 21-3 deficit to tie the game 31-all, and just 35 second left, Aaron Rodgers, Mr. Houdini, had the Packers third-and-20 at their own 32 with just 12 seconds remaining, one timeout left and impending overtime on the way. Or so it seemed. Well, Rodgers scrambles out to his left and heaves a perfect strike to Jared Cook for 35 yards inches from the sideline, all the way down to the Cowboys' 33-yard line. And with just 3 seconds left, Mason Crosby faded in a 51-yard field goal as time expired for the victory, 34-31.
Oh, that continuing pain.
Not just last year or 2014. But with the exception of that four-game run from 1978-84 and then again from 1991-96, it's almost as if the Cowboys had sold their souls to the devil that final weekend of the 1988 season so they could earn the right to draft Aikman.
Over time, this payback has been hell.
So here we are to today, er, Sunday. Maybe it's a stretch to say this Cowboys' 2-2 start to the 2017 season is at a crossroads. I mean, there are 12 games remaining. But gosh darn, 3-2 sounds a heckuva lot better heading into the bye than 2-3 and knowing the only teams you've beaten are Arizona and the Giants.
Plus, beating Mr. Rodgers for the second time in two seasons sounds a heckuva lot better than Green Bay's quarterbacking maestro beating you for the sixth-time in eight career starts against you. He's beat the Cowboys here, he's beat the Cowboys there. He's beat them on one good leg and he's beat them on one miraculous throw. And he almost beat them at his coming-out party in 2007 when taking over for Brett Favre after the Cowboys knocked out the future Hall of Famer from the game in the second quarter, Rodgers coming in that day at Texas Stadium trailing 27-10 to complete 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown (104.8 QB rating) in the eventual 37-27 Cowboys win.
Darn him, too, that was awfully foreboding, Rodgers now having thrown for 1,951 yards in seven starts against the Cowboys, with 12 touchdowns, just two interceptions and a QB rating of 101.4.
"It's as good anything I've ever seen," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli says of Rodgers. "The strength, but it's the accuracy. A lot of guys have arm strength, but this guy is accurate. I mean on the run, sprinting, throwing across his body. I mean, he just feels the field. He's over there, whack, throws that thing all across the field on a rope."
Yep, we know. We all know, including Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, using the word "exceptional" when talking of Rodgers at least three times, seemingly in one breath, earlier in the week.
So here we go, Cowboys-Packers once again. My suggestion to the Cowboys is to make sure you score Thirtysomething. Might even need 40, who knows.
And for you guys, don't totally expend yourselves early in the game. Save some breath for the end.
History tells us you just might be holding it for those final seconds.