Just like old times

What started last year in Dallas continues on Sunday night in Green Bay. The Cowboys-Packers rivalry is back to where it used to be, and it should be here to stay.

Though the Packers are choosing to downplay any hype this week preparing for their marquee matchup with the Cowboys, the feeling here is that the battle of 2-0 teams on Sunday night is as big as a regular season game gets. With all due respect to the defending champion Giants, and maybe even the Eagles, the Cowboys-Packers matchup is the one in the NFC that everyone wants to see.

Building on what was considered the NFC's biggest game a year ago, the Cowboys vs. the Packers is beginning to have a special meaning again – kind of like it did back in the 1960s and 1990s.

In those decades, almost every game between the two historic franchises redefined the NFL's pecking order. Such games would determine who got home-field advantage for the playoffs, who would win or go home for the offseason and, on at least three occasions, who would be crowned the NFL's champion.

Until last season's meeting (a 37-27 Cowboys victory on Nov. 29 at Texas Stadium), the last time the Cowboys and Packers met in a game of a similar magnitude was in 1997, when the Cowboys came to Lambeau Field and were blown out 45-17 before one of the rowdiest crowds the old stadium has witnessed. Later that year, the Packers went to their second straight Super Bowl.

The Packers beat the Cowboys six straight times (two playoff games) with Vince Lombardi at the helm in the 1960s. They lost seven straight (three playoff games) in the 1990s under Mike Holmgren before the 1997 game ended the streak.

Having to wait a decade for a Cowboys-Packers meeting that really meant something was much too long. Thankfully, that should not be the case looking ahead months and even years from now.

Something tells this scribe that Sunday night's meeting at Lambeau will be the first of two this season between the teams. Though a second game has not been scheduled, the word "postseason" might come into play down the road.

Though just two games into the regular season, the Packers and new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers have exceeded expectations. They are "stacking successes," as coach Mike McCarthy likes to say, in a consistent and definitive manner. A large magnet posted on a locker room door on Wednesday featured a Packers helmet on it along with the words "Real Confidence." No two words can more accurately describe what the Packers are feeling, despite their relative lack of experience.

For the third straight regular season, the Packers opened with the youngest roster in the NFL (averaging 25.57 years old). Many of those players have been locked up contractually for years to come. Two more – wide receiver Greg Jennings and Rodgers – could be locked up by year's end. That means the stronghold the Packers have had on the NFC North in four of the last six seasons should continue.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, are more "veteran" than the Packers, but no less set for the long haul. Quarterback Tony Romo (28 years old) is just entering his prime, running back Marion Barber (25) is as tough as they get, tight end Jason Witten (26) seems unstoppable at times, and linebacker DeMarcus Ware (26) is a perfect fit for the Cowboys' 3-4 defense.

The Cowboys had a mind-boggling 13 Pro Bowlers a year ago. They all return this season. Three other big names – cornerbacks Adam "Pacman" Jones (24) and Mike Jenkins (23), and running back Felix Jones (21) – were added in the offseason.

Really, only two of the Cowboys' Pro Bowlers would be considered old by NFL standards. Tackle Flozell Adams and outside linebacker Greg Ellis (both 11-year veterans) have worn some tread off their tires, but guys like wide receiver Terrell Owens (34) and Roy Williams (28) are hardly showing their age (though Williams will be out Sunday night will a fractured forearm).

On top of a deep roster, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has a succession plan in order for his head coaching position. When Wade Phillips retires, a bright offensive mind in Princeton graduate Jason Garrett (42) will take over.

Despite their critics, Jones and Packers general manager Ted Thompson have built two of the strongest teams on and off the field in the NFL. Throw in the fact both teams are based in different geographical regions in the country and have the two largest fan bases in the country, and the rivalry carries a uniqueness that sets it apart from traditional division games.

With continued success, the Cowboys and Packers could be meeting at least once annually for the next several years. The way the regular season schedule is constructed each year, division champions in the same conference play each other the following year.

Like last Monday night's 41-37 Cowboys-Eagles game, Sunday night's game should be one for the ages. And get used to this Cowboys-Packers big-game theme because it just might hang around for awhile.

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.

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