Dec. 11, 1983: Skins Invade Dallas

This is a dismal season. And it's a dismal game, between two 0-4 teams headed nowhere. Fast. It wasn't always that way. And it wasn't always Dallas winning. Here's an excerpt from America's Rivalry! The 20 Greatest Redskins-Cowboys Games. The Cowboys don't win on this site.

They invaded Dallas, overwhelming the city and, a day later, the Cowboys. A platoon of 25 or so Washington Redskins decked in battle fatigues and black combat boots led the charge. They armed themselves with attitude.

Stares greeted them in the Dallas airport. Local media swarmed the Redskins' hotel, eager for pictures. Never before had a team traveled to a city for such a big game -- with a division title and home field advantage at stake -- carrying such bravado.

Their act dominated the Dallas television news that night. Word had spread among some Cowboys players. A few had heard that all the Redskins and even the coaches donned the fatigues.

Of course, the coaches had nothing to do with this. Imagine Washington coach Joe Gibbs wearing a camouflage outfit. But what the players wanted was his approval.

They weren't sure that would happen. After all, this was a coach who feared becoming bulletin-board fodder. That's why many players packed alternative travel outfits, just in case.

Gibbs, though, didn't discover the fashion statement until the players boarded the bus at Redskin Park for the ride to nearby Dulles Airport.

''If they had told me, I probably would have tried to talk them out of it,'' Gibbs said. ''I was afraid that it would give the Cowboys something to get fired up about. But our guys had made up their minds that they were going to do it.''

Not that Gibbs' displeasure didn't show.

''He looked like, 'I don't believe it, but I'm not going to overreact,' '' tight end Doc Walker recalled. ''I looked at the assistant coaches, especially the guys who had played the game and they had all been through this. You could sense that they were like, 'You guys have [guts].' ''

Or, as Washington guard Russ Grimm said, ''I imagine that Joe was about ready to throw up.''

But the Redskins were ready for this game. For three months they had waited to wash a bitter taste from their mouths, a 31-30 loss to the Cowboys in the season opener. Lest anyone forget, Dallas had rallied from a 23-3 halftime deficit. Washington hadn't forgotten.

Since that game, the Cowboys had lost to the Los Angeles Raiders and San Diego by a combined three points while the Redskins had lost, 48-47, to Green Bay. Two points, two losses.

And there was the matter of home field advantage as well as the NFC East championship as both teams entered with 12-2 records. It was only the second time division rivals had won 12 games in the same season since the NFL-AFL merger in 1969.

That's why about two dozen Redskins ventured to a Washington area Army surplus store to buy their fatigues. Some, such as Grimm, already owned this garb. Grimm also carried a dud hand grenade while linebacker Neal Olkewicz toted a commando bag.

No one recalls the idea's exact genesis. Surely, though, it stemmed from Olkewicz and running back John Riggins, who had donned a combat helmet before practices that week.

''Riggo didn't care what anybody thought,'' said Charley Casserly, then the Redskins' assistant general manager.

It was a gutsy move considering Washington hadn't won in Dallas since 1976 and was 1-9 there in the past 10 years. But this time, the clothes made the man. Or men.

''It showed our mindset,'' Olkewicz said. ''We honestly felt like we were going into battle.''

Turns out the battle at Texas Stadium was one-sided. It even caused disintegration among the Dallas troops. There was quarterback Danny White audibilizing on a fourth-down play designed simply to draw Washington offside. The Redskins stuffed the play. There were defensive backs Dennis Thurman and Michael Downs interrupting the Fun Bunch end zone celebration. And there was running back Tony Dorsett picking a fight with defensive tackle Darryl Grant.

''A lot of times stuff like that happens when you're getting your butts kicked,'' Dorsett said. ''You resort to other measures.''

While the camouflaged outfits grabbed the headlines, Washington's execution won the game. Dallas' offense sputtered, despite playing against a secondary dubbed, ''The Pearl Harbor Crew'' for its weekly bombings.

But the Redskins held the Cowboys to 173 yards passing -- and a backup safety limited to eight snaps all season, Greg Williams, intercepted two passes. And Dallas managed only a franchise-low 33 yards rushing on 20 carries.

It's no wonder the Cowboys scored fewer than 21 points for the first time all season.

Washington defensive tackle Dave Butz, who did not wear the fatigues, dominated up front. He sacked White three times for minus-25 yards. Then there was the Redskins' offense. In the first meeting that season, Dallas had often blitzed its safeties, plugging the middle. To defeat that, Gibbs started three receivers rather than two. That took a safety from the middle and, if the Cowboys wanted to blitz, they would have to give it away by walking toward the line.

Also, Washington ran Riggins from three- and four-receiver sets. Whether or not all of this was the difference, the Redskins rolled from the start.

''I'll always remember this game because we came up with a few things technically,'' Gibbs said. ''It was one of our better game plans. I never thought much about the fatigues once we started playing.''

Washington scored on its first two drives, opening a 14-0 lead. A 27-yard pass interference penalty on safety Downs gave Washington a first down at the Dallas 7. Two plays later, Riggins scored from the 3.

Riggins helped set up the second score without touching the ball. Quarterback Joe Theismann play-faked to Riggins, causing safety Dextor Clinkscale to fall. That left tight end Clint Didier wide open for a 40-yard touchdown.

But, as in the season opener, Dallas rallied. The comeback began after Riggins was stuffed on fourth-and-inches from the Washington 48 -- the Redskins had been nine for 10 on fourth-down plays before this game. Two plays later, White hit tight end Doug Cosbie for a 29-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.

Rafael Septien capped a 49-yard drive with a 35-yard field goal 49 seconds before halftime, narrowing the gap to 14-10.

Then came the real adventure for Washington, starting on the first drive of the second half. Dallas had a fourth-and-1 from its 49 and attempted to draw the Redskins offside.

White had other ideas, however. He audibilized to a running play for running back Ron Springs. Once center Tom Rafferty heard the call, he dissented.

''No! No! No! Don't run that play!'' Butz remembered hearing Rafferty shout.

''That was the first time I'd heard a center absolutely refuse to continue on with the play,'' Butz said. ''You just say to yourself with a little bit of glee, 'Oh good!' ''

On the sidelines, usually-stoic coach Tom Landry shouted, ''No! No! No, Danny!''

But, Butz said White told Rafferty to keep quiet and run the play. Bad choice. Springs was nailed by Olkewicz and Mann, among others, for a 2-yard loss.

''Danny seemed intent on creating his own tempo,'' Dallas receiver Drew Pearson said, ''or his own place in Cowboy history. Danny wanted to be the cerebral quarterback. Even though Landry would call a play, he wanted to outsmart Landry by calling something different.''

The Dallas defense held after the fourth-down mishap and, one series later, Downs intercepted Theismann on the goal line.

That's the last time the ball bounced the Cowboys' way. On their next series, White's pass skipped off Cosbie's hands into Pearson's at the Dallas 35. But cornerback Vernon Dean nailed Pearson. The ball popped into the air and rookie cornerback Darrell Green snagged it before falling to the ground at the 43.

Next play: Theismann to receiver Art Monk, beating reserve cornerback Ron Fellows, for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead.

The Fun Bunch, a group of Redskins, gathered for their usual touchdown celebration, a mass leaping and high-fiving. Downs and cornerback Thurman had other ideas. They broke into this circle, trying to prevent a celebration on their turf, something they had talked about in practice that week. They only got in the way.

''I remember saying to Thurman, 'Save your energy for the play,' '' said Walker, the originator of the Fun Bunch. ''They were clearly disrupted. They should have exerted some of that energy to stop Art.''

Thurman said, ''Not only do they beat us, but they were always embarrassing us and humiliating us. I mean, come on, let's be professional here. It was something that was always on our minds to do and we did it and we ended up looking bad. But the NFL ended up changing the [end zone celebration] rule, so maybe we weren't so bad.''

Fellows had a more succint reason for why it happened.

''We got tired of that crap,'' he said.

Though the game was still close, the Cowboys' cool had melted in front of 65,074 fans. Dorsett proved that early in the fourth.

He caught a screen pass and turned it into a 13-yard gain. Defensive tackle Darryl Grant and Williams tackled him from behind. Dorsett and Grant exchanged shoves on the way up and Dorsett whipped the ball at Grant's helmet.

Dorsett was ticked because he said someone had drilled a knee into his back. Perhaps his 34 yards on 14 carries to this point contributed as well.

''Before I realized what I did, I slammed the ball at his forehead,'' Dorsett said. ''I was like, 'Oh, [shoot]!' I looked at the size of him and said, 'Oh, boy!' I'm on national TV, I can't just take off and run so I have to stand here like a man and bring it on. He decided not to do anything and I was so happy.

''But you talk about throwing a strike. I hit him dead smack in the center. Bam. I hit him and that ball took off. That was a great throw. If I tried it for 100 years, I couldn't throw it any better.''

The Redskins didn't like Dorsett -- they considered him too mouthy, though they would talk back. Grant said they didn't like that after being tackled, Dorsett would get up and sometimes flip the ball in the defender's face.

They enjoyed nothing more than smacking into No. 33. But when Grant had the chance, he wisely backed away as others intervened. Dorsett was nailed with a 15-yard penalty.

''It increased the intensity of the game,'' Grant recalled.

After Dorsett's penalty, with Dallas facing a first-and-27 from its 44, Williams intercepted White and returned the ball 25 yards. Two plays later, a 37-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Rod Hill, covering Charlie Brown, gave Washington a first down at the 4. On fourth-and-1, Riggins bulled over for the touchdown and 28-10 lead with 11:19 remaining.

Williams' second interception led to the game's final three points.

The Cowboys sputtered in the playoffs. After losing the regular-season finale, they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Rams in the first round. The Redskins easily advanced to their second straight Super Bowl, where they lost to the Raiders, 38-9. Despite the ending, many Redskins considered this their best team.

They mixed a confident arrogance with talent. And no day typified that more than Dec. 11.

The battle fatigues were retired after this win. But the memory of the invasion survived.

''Thank God we won,'' Olkewicz said. ''We never would have lived that down.''

Instead, they'll never forget it. As Redskins offensive tackle Joe Jacoby said, ''Mission accomplished.''


Breaking Burgundy Top Stories