There’s an old saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. Nowhere is that axiom more appropriate than the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry, arguably the greatest in NFL history. These two division rivals have met at least once every year since the Cowboys joined the league in 1960, a total of 108 games heading into Monday Night’s game at AT&T Stadium.
No wonder these two teams hate each other!
My favorite Cowboys-Redskins story involves two of my all-time Cowboys heroes, Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters. These two guys were the dynamic duo of the Cowboys defensive backfield in the 1970’s. They both played safety. They were like Batman & Robin, Frick & Frack, Cookies & Cream….well, you get the idea.
Cliff & Charlie were also Cowboys-to-the-core, having played their entire professional careers in Dallas, Cliff from 1970-1979 and Charlie from 1970-1981.
The 1970’s was the best decade of the rivalry because there were strong personalities on both teams. Back then, Cowboys fans were repelled by the likes of QB Joe Theismann and head coach George Allen (Allen was great at fanning the flames of the rivalry).
This particular Cliff & Charlie story is from the 1978 game played in Washington D.C. at RFK Stadium, the Redskins home field. The Cowboys lost the game, 9-to-5.
That’s a strange score for a football game…one team scoring 5 points? Actually, before the final play of the contest, the Redskins held a 9-3 lead. Theisman and the Redskins offense were backed up near their own end zone. Rather than risking an interception or a fumble that could cost them the game, Theisman was told by his coaches to intentionally run back towards his own end zone, wasting as much time as possible to run out the clock, and be purposefully tackled in the end zone…thus running out the clock. Yes, it would be a safety (and two points) for the Cowboys, but at least the game would be over and the Redskins would win.
So that’s what Theisman did. But guess who were the Cowboys to tackle Theismann? That’s right: Charlie and Cliff.
Here’s Charlie’s version of what happened after that: “He (Theismann) successfully burned out the clock by scooting around in the end zone, but failed to step out of bounds. He pranced around back there, got caught up in the moment and held the ball up in the air, taunting us. That worked the fans into a frenzy.”
Uh-oh, I can tell this isn’t going to end well. Let’s see what happened next.
Charlie: “I was the first Cowboy to get to Theismann…Help arrived in the form of Randy White who exploded into both Theismann and me….Joe miraculously held on to the ball. Of course a fight broke out because Joe’s offensive linemen didn’t take kindly to Randy and me abusing their leader. It was a short brawl. No one got hurt, but the fans smelled blood.”
Okay, that doesn’t seem so bad. But wait, there’s more.
Charlie: “Defeated, we walked to the back of the end zone toward the ramp to our locker room. The tunnel was a dugout. RFK was a classic old baseball stadium that doubled as a football stadium. The dugout was below field level. The fans spilled over the top of the dugout. Still in full gear, I focused my attention on carefully negotiating the concrete steps with my steel cleats. That’s when the beer bottle exploded on my helmet and beer doused my face and neck, pieces of glass flying everywhere.”
Keep walking, Charlie, keep walking.
Charlie: “I looked up and made eye contact with the attacker, still holding the neck of the shattered bottle. He taunted, ‘Yeah, big guy, that was me. You want some of this?’ I think he felt safe in the stands.”
Please keep walking, Charlie. Hopefully Cliff didn’t see this, or the dynamic duo would fly into action. Speaking of Cliff…Charlie continues the story.
Charlie: “My partner Cliff Harris had witnessed the assault. He had fire in his eyes. He said, ‘Let’s go get him!’. And that’ s just what we did. We climbed up on top of the dugout and launched ourselves right into the midsts of the Washington fans, fists flailing. We bloodied as many as we could before two security guards literally dragged us out of the melee by our ankles. Cliff and I exchanged elated high-fives as we scurried up the tunnel to the dressing room.”
Oh, man. I bet the NFL went crazy! Cliff & Charlie must have been fined, maybe even suspended. Surely there were consequences!
Uh, no. This was the 1970’s…and it was Cowboys-Redskins.
Charlie: “There were no fines, no lawsuits, no suspensions – no repercussions whatsoever. And thank goodness there were no cameras.”
Those were the good ol’ days, alright. I’ve heard Charlie & Cliff tell this story on Cowboys Radio many times through the years. Of course, like all great tales, it gets better and better with time.
This particular version of the story is part of a fun book titled TALES FROM THE DALLAS COWBOYS, A COLLECTION OF THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD (written by Cliff Harris & Charlie Waters). If you or someone you love is a long-time fan (especially of the Cowboys team in the 1970’s), you’ll love this book.
Yeah, that’s a free plug for my buddies Charlie & Cliff. But, hey, they deserve it. And the book is a good idea for a stocking-stuffer for Christmas.
The best part of this whole story: Charlie & Cliff still hate Theismann and the Redskins. That’s why it’s still a rivalry!!!