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STAR: Despite Just 12 Meetings, Series With Carolina Has Been Entertaining

(This story originally appeared in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click **here*.)*

There has always been a debate concerning which opponent is actually the Cowboys' biggest rival.

Ask anyone who followed this team in the '70s or '80s and your answer will likely be the Redskins. Of course, if the '90s were your favorite era, than it could be the Eagles, or maybe even the 49ers.

The Giants-Cowboys rivalry has certainly picked up steam and you can even make a case for teams like the Cardinals, Packers and even the Steelers on a Super Bowl level.

OK, so what about the Panthers? Yes, those Carolina Panthers who have been around since 1994, playing the Cowboys just 12 times in the process.

You might think it's way too early to consider Carolina as a big-time adversary but considering the history already between the two teams, it's not far off.

In just 12 meetings we've already got two playoff games, which if you remember those two contests should be reason enough for Cowboys fans to dislike the Panthers. But aside from those contests, the other meetings have been quite entertaining with interesting twists and turns, including Tony Romo's first-ever start and win back in 2006 in front of a national audience.

For the record, the Cowboys are 9-3 against Carolina and winners of nine of the last 11. That loss, of course, came in the playoffs of the 2003 season, proving to be one of the few really lopsided games in this series. 

So let's start with the most recent, and work our way backward.

2012 – Cowboys 19, Panthers 14:

Facing a young quarterback named Cam Newton, the NFL's No. 1 overall pick in 2011, the Cowboys got a big play from their first-round rookie as Morris Claiborne picked off Newton in the end zone during the first half.

But the Panthers managed to grab a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. But the Cowboys scrapped their way down the stretch, getting a pair of Dan Bailey field goals to take the five-point lead. They still needed to survive a Hail Mary throw to the end zone by Newton in the final seconds to hang on for the win.

2009 – Cowboys 21, Panthers 7:

This game is a likely trivia answer down the road as the Cowboys were able to hold off Carolina for the win – the franchise's first victory in what is now called AT&T Stadium. Down 7-0 at halftime, the Cowboys were able to pull away from the pesky Panthers in the fourth quarter, thanks to a game-clinching interception return for a score from Terence Newman, who also did a masterful job stopping Carolina receiver Steve Smith.

2007 – Cowboys 20, Panthers 13:

The Cowboys picked up their 13th win of the season, beating the Panthers in a game that clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Earlier in the week, the Cowboys weren't sure how effective Romo would be after he injured his thumb in the previous game. He went out and threw 42 passes. However, the Cowboys lost Terrell Owens to a severely sprained ankle that limited him three weeks later in the playoff loss to the Giants.

2006 – Cowboys 35, Panthers 14:

A star is born. Tony Romo makes his first start for the Cowboys and leads them to a second-half rally on the road in Carolina. Romo threw for 270 yards and a touchdown, eventually winning five of his first six starts during that season.

2005 – Cowboys, 24, Panthers 20:

Lots of storylines for this Christmas Eve game. With the Cowboys' slim postseason hopes on the line, two slumping players provided breakout games, leading the Cowboys to a much-needed 24-20 victory.

Julius Jones rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns for his only 100-yard game of the year. DeMarcus Ware hadn't registered a sack in eight games, but exploded with three on this day as well as three forced fumbles.

The Cowboys shut down Steve Smith, who was so frustrated he ended up getting himself kicked out by shoving an official.

Still, the Cowboys needed an early Christmas gift. Kicker Billy Cundiff had shanked a field goal and had one blocked before he missed yet another chip-shot field goal in the final minute of play. However, a running-into-the-kicker penalty gave the Cowboys new life. Drew Bledsoe then threw a game-winning touchdown to Terry Glenn with 24 seconds to play.

It proved to be Cundiff's last kick with the Cowboys, who released him shortly thereafter. And the Cowboys' luck ran out as well, as they were eliminated from the playoffs the next week with both Washington and, yes, Carolina winning their games to keep the Cowboys out of the postseason.

2003 Playoffs – Panthers 29, Cowboys 10:

The Cowboys were simply out-manned in this NFC Wild Card Game on a rocking night game at then-named Ericsson Stadium. The Panthers rolled to a 19-point victory thanks to several big plays from Steve Smith, who showed rookie Terence Newman he still had some growing up to do. Quincy Carter had led the Cowboys to a 10-6 record, but the team was never that competitive in the game, which proved to be Carter's last in Dallas.

2003 – Cowboys 24, Panthers 20:

Maybe the reason the Panthers played with such emotion in that playoff game, aside from the fact that it was a playoff game, was to avenge this tough loss to the Cowboys back in November. In a battle between two of the best teams in the NFC, the Cowboys outlasted the Panthers to improve their record to 8-4, assuring them of at least a .500 record after suffering three straight 5-11 seasons. After the game, a teary-eyed Parcells said, "you can't call them losers anymore."

2002 – Cowboys 14, Panthers 13:

It's not over until …

Whatever the cliché is, the Cowboys finished it against the Panthers. Carolina had just whipped the Carter-led Cowboys for about 56 minutes. The score was 13-0, and Dallas was headed for their first home shutout in 11 years until something magical happened. The Cowboys got right back in the game on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Carter to Joey Galloway, but not before the ball passed through the hands of a Panthers safety. The tipped ball fell right into Galloway's hands and just like that, the Cowboys trailed 13-7.

After the defense came to life and forced a punt, the game's momentum had clearly shifted. Carter drove the offense down the field again, and facing another fourth-down, fired a bullet to rookie Antonio Bryant, who made a juggling catch in the end zone with just 56 seconds to play. A booth review confirmed the score and the extra point gave the Cowboys a thrilling, yet improbable win.

2000 – Cowboys, 16, Panthers 13 (OT):

In a defensive struggle that couldn't be decided in just four quarters, Troy Aikman and the Cowboys' offense finally put together one drive in overtime to secure the win. Aikman, playing his final season with the Cowboys, engineered a 75-yard drive in the first possession of overtime, leading to a game-winning field goal by rookie kicker Tim Seder.

1998 – Cowboys 27, Panthers 20:

Still playing without Aikman, who had suffered a broken collarbone four weeks earlier, the Cowboys were trying to stay alive in the NFC playoff race with Jason Garrett leading the way. The Cowboys found themselves down 14-3 early thanks to a touchdown pass from Kerry Collins to Rocket Ismail, who was playing his final year with the Panthers before signing with Dallas in 1999. But Garrett and Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 132 yards, rallied the Cowboys for a victory that pushed the team's record to 4-2 in a season that seemed to be lost when Aikman went down in Week 2.

1997 – Panthers 23, Cowboys 13:

Carolina improved to 2-0 against the Cowboys by handing Dallas a humiliating defeat on Monday Night Football. In what turned out to be one of Barry Switzer's final games as head coach, the Cowboys never got on track from start to finish. Collins hooked up with Muhsin Muhammad for several big plays and the Panthers also got 131 rushing yards from the late Fred Lane. The Cowboys were officially eliminated from the postseason.

1996 Playoffs – Panthers 26, Cowboys 17:

After winning three of the previous four Super Bowls, and fighting through an early-season stumble to win the NFC East for the fifth straight year, there weren't many people who gave the Panthers a chance to beat the Cowboys here in the NFC Divisional Playoff game, no matter if they were at home or not.

But it didn't take the whole world long to learn about Carolina. In just their second year of existence, the Panthers smacked the Cowboys around all day, dethroning the defending Super Bowl champions in a game that put the Panthers on the NFL map. Now, Cowboys fans will always say the game might have been different had Michael Irvin not suffered a shoulder injury early in the outing. And, of course, it would've been different, but who's to say the Cowboys would've won? We'll never know.

What we do know about the Panthers and Cowboys is that despite not having a long-lasting history of games, it's likely there will be some drama. And with the Panthers playing the first-ever Monday night game at the new stadium this week, it's a given that recent trend will continue once again.


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