Rivalry Redux?

For the Dallas Cowboys, fresh off a heartbreaking loss to the arch-nemesis Washington Redskins, looms another longstanding rival--the San Francisco 49ers.

The Cowboys-49ers rivalry certainly brings back some fond (and not so fond) memories. The two franchises are, after all, deemed the teams of the 80s and 90s.

NFL historians and football fans both young and old need not be reminded that for many years, the Cowboys-49ers rivalry was one of the most anticipated and fiercest conference match-up's across the board. The game was circled on upcoming schedules and posted on home refrigerators all across the country during the long, grueling months that are the NFL's offseason.

Ken Norton, Jr., a former linebacker for both teams, even called the rivalry "war."

So what happened?

Lackluster coaching regimes, free agency, differing schedules and salary cap woes have all contributed to the series taking a big step backward in recent seasons. Only once since 1996 have the Cowboys and 49ers made the playoffs in the same season: 1998. That isn't likely to change this year.

In addition, the last time the Cowboys and 49ers met with any real playoff implications on the line for both teams was in '96. The Cowboys won that game, 20-17, on a Chris Boniol field goal in overtime. The Cowboys finished 10-6 that year; San Francisco 12-4.

The following year, Dallas lost to the 49ers, 17-10, after Michael Irvin was interfered with by Rod Woodson on a deep pass during a third down play on the Cowboys' final possession. Woodson was initially flagged for interference, but officials later ruled "incidental contact." The following play, Troy Aikman was intercepted by Tim McDonald.

Now, in spite of all the struggles that both storied franchises have succumb to in the post-Norton era, the Cowboys and 49ers are scheduled to meet Sunday at Monster Park - formerly known as Candlestick Park - for the first time (in the city of San Francisco) since that '97 game.

As one would expect, the game won't get as much national spotlight (or even the "luxury" of a Joe Buck broadcast). But for most fans, it will still count for more than just any ordinary win or loss.

The Cowboys are 16-19-1 all-time against the 49ers, who are one of just four teams (minus the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens, who have combined for only three games lifetime against Dallas) to post a winning record against the ‘Boys in head-to-head competition. It's worth noting, of course, that the Cowboys hold the advantage against the 49ers in NFC Championship play with four wins to only two losses. All-time in the playoffs, Dallas is 5-2 against the 49ers.

In more recent years, the Cowboys met the 49ers three times from 2000-‘02, all at Texas Stadium. San Francisco won two of those games against inferior Dallas teams, but the Cowboys did provide a dent into 49er aspirations of either a first-round bye or a home playoff game in 2001 with a 27-21 win in Irving.

This time around, it's the Cowboys who are favored, even though 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson has made headlines for guaranteeing a victory this Sunday.

It's bulletin board material at its finest, especially for a team desperately looking to erase the bad taste of a shocking loss to their biggest rival in front of a Monday night audience--at home no less, where the Redskins got their once-a-decade win at Texas Stadium.

Let the "war" begin.

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