LANDOVER, Md. —As the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins hits the century mark, Bruce Allen still has a painful twinge in his voice at the mention of one three-word phrase.
"The Mad Bomber."
"Thanksgiving is ruined forever for that," the Redskins general manager said. "I never even liked turkey sandwiches after that."
"The Mad Bomber" is Clint Longley, the backup quarterback who led the Cowboys to a 24-23 come-from-behind stunner on Thanksgiving Day in 1974. The Redskins — coached by Allen's father, George — had knocked Roger Staubach from the game and led 16-3, but one-hit-wonder Longley came on to throw his first NFL passes, including a 50-yard touchdown to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds remaining.
Cowboys-Redskins, Edition No. 100 takes place tonight, appropriately enough in prime time. The Cowboys (9-5) hope to be in position to clinch a playoff berth, while the Redskins (4-10) are playing out the string for lame duck coach Jim Zorn.
The cold numbers say the Cowboys lead the series 58-39-2, although both playoff meetings were won by the Redskins. Emotionally, players and fans say there's nothing like it, especially in Washington, where the rivalry has always been taken more seriously than in Dallas.
"The only one that's probably in that same class is Bears-Packers, just because it's forever," Bruce Allen said. "It's Cowboys and Indians. For so long, these franchises, every game is meaningful. It's a great rivalry for the NFL."
It's timely that the game comes less than two weeks after Allen was hired by the Redskins. After all, it was his father's scorn for stoic counterpart Tom Landry and the team from Texas that stoked a passion that still burns decades later.
"It was George Allen, who didn't believe in the draft, vs. the Cowboys, who believed in the draft," longtime NFL running back Calvin Hill said. "It was over-the-hill players against players who were young. It was two coaches who were diametrically opposed; one was very reserved and one was very emotional.
"I think George actually made an effort to create a focus and a goal — we have to get through Dallas. So he ratcheted up that whole thing. 'You've got to hate Dallas."'
Hill has a unique perspective, having played for both teams — and thus both Hall of Fame coaches — during the 1970s.
"I remember George came into the Dallas week and he said he just wished he could meet Tom Landry on the 50-yard line, just him and Tom, and they could fight it out," Hill said. "He started talking about what he'd do to Tom. This was during the week, a speech to the team. He was saying all this that he'd do to Tom, blah-blah-blah.
"Then he dismissed the meeting. I remember I was walking down the stairs and Larry Brown said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'You know, Tom Landry's in pretty good shape."'
Bruce Allen said his father wanted to draw a deliberate distinction between the franchises at a time when the Cowboys were starting to call themselves "America's Team."
"The image-building they were doing in those days was different than what he wanted the Redskins' image to be," Bruce Allen said. "He was very proud of the group of players he was playing with, and they were never going to take a back seat to the Cowboys."
Because Allen and Landry never did duke it out at the 50, two of the most memorable games in the series are remembered simply by a nickname and a chant: "The Mad Bomber" and "We Want Dallas!"
"We Want Dallas!" was the cry that literally shook the flexible bleachers of RFK Stadium during Washington's 31-17 win in the NFC championship game on Jan. 22, 1983. The Cowboys were the only team to beat the Redskins during the strike-shortened regular season, and Washington's subsequent Super Bowl victory wouldn't have felt quite the same if the Redskins hadn't exacted revenge.
"It wouldn't have been worth anything if we didn't get to beat Dallas," said Joe Jacoby, a longtime member of the offensive line known as the "Hogs." "That game is still vivid. Just seeing the stands move and the crowd and how loud they were."
There are too many other great moments to count:
* Ken Houston tackles Walt Garrison at the goal line to preserve a Redskins' 14-7 victory in 1973.
* Harvey Martin tosses a funeral wreath into Washington's locker room after a 35-34 Cowboys win that clinches the NFC East on the final day of the 1979 season.
* Dallas wins 24-21 over a Washington team that was 11-0 in 1991, ending a shot at an unbeaten season.
The list goes on. But, as great as the rivalry has been, it is limping its way to its milestone. No. 99 wasn't much of a game — the Cowboys won 7-6 on Nov. 22 — and No. 100 has been overshadowed in Washington by a season so dysfunctional that even Dallas Week feels like an afterthought.
For Redskins players who were a big part in the rivalry's heyday, it's been hard to watch.
"It hurts, I admit that," Jacoby said. "It does pain you to see what's going on now, and you want it to be better. You want that history that we had, that we were part of, to continue."