Alex Smith was in a hospital bed the last time Washington played the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, days removed from his life-threatening leg injury. Now on Thursday, the quarterback will get to play on the holiday for the first time.
“There’s a tradition,” Smith said. “Forever growing up, it’s Detroit and Dallas that played on Thanksgiving.”
That tradition typically hasn’t ended well for Washington.
Thursday will mark the tenth Thanksgiving meeting between Dallas and Washington in a storied rivalry that stretches back decades. Over that span, though, Washington has won just once. Once. Dallas holds a +71 point differential in the holiday matchup.
Here’s a look back, by year, at each game:
1968 — Dallas 29, Washington 20: Jim Ninowski was a career backup for most of his 12 years in the NFL, but he was called into action in 1968 when Sonny Jurgensen was sidelined with the flu. After the then-Redskins fell 17-0, Ninowski made it interesting. His four-yard pass to Pat Richter gave Washington a 20-19 lead late. The lead wouldn’t last. Ninowski threw a game-sealing interception — his third of the day — that was returned for a touchdown and the Cowboys (10-2) held on to avoid the upset (Washington was just 4-8).
1974 — Dallas 24, Washington 23: The Mad Bomber. That was the nickname of Clint Longley, the backup Cowboys quarterback who stunned Washington with a come-from-behind 24-23 victory — one of the most painful defeats in Washington’s history. Longley, filling in for an injured Roger Staubach, threw a 50-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left to down Washington. “Thanksgiving is ruined forever for that,” former general manager Bruce Allen told The Associated Press in 2014. Allen’s father, George, was then Washington’s coach. “I never even liked turkey sandwiches after that.”
1978 — Dallas 37, Washington 10: This one came with some animosity. Cowboys linebacker Thomas Henderson fanned the flames by calling Washington “turkeys” — ’70s trash talk, wasn’t it great? — which didn’t sit well. To make matters worse, Washington’s players were even angrier after the loss, having felt that Dallas ran the score up in the fourth quarter with deep play-action passes. “They’re still turkeys, and their feathers are all over the place,” Henderson told reporters after the game. Ouch.
1990 — Dallas 27, Washington 17: Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith’s first-ever Thanksgiving game was also his coming out party. The then-rookie rushed for a season-high 132 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys’ 27-17 win.
1996 — Cowboys 21, Washington 10: First place in the NFC East was on the line, just like it will be for this year’s game. Only back then, both teams were well above .500 — who would have thought? The Cowboys moved into a tie for first with their 21-10 victory as Washington fell to 8-5. Norv Turner, the former Cowboys offensive coordinator whose innovative schemes landed him the Washington job, couldn’t help muster much offense against his former club. The team finished with just 209 total yards.
2002 — Cowboys 27, Washington 20: The early 2000s were down years for the rivalry, and on this afternoon, both clubs had losing records. Coincidentally, that’ll be the case this year as well — Washington and Dallas are each 3-7. Neither Washington nor Dallas had a shot at the NFC East in 2002 though. They were playing for pride, and the Cowboys (then 4-7) prevailed over 5-6 Washington. Smith ran for 144 yards in what would be his final Thanksgiving game against the team.
2012 — Washington 38, Cowboys 31: Among the many high points of Robert Griffin III’s amazing rookie year, going into Dallas on Thanksgiving and upsetting the Cowboys is up there. A Texas native who played his college ball at Baylor, Griffin threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Alfred Morris rushed 113 yards. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo almost erased a 28-3 deficit, but Washington held on. “When you go back (home) you want to put on a show,” Griffin told ESPN.
2016 — Cowboys 31, Washington 26: This game was more memorable for the antics that immediately happened once it ended. Josh Norman and Dez Bryant broke out into a shoving match and had to be separated. That led to great post-game interviews from each. Norman, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington that offseason, told reporters, “I’m not that guy that if I see a challenge in front of my face, I’m not going to back down. That’s not me.” Bryant then had this dagger ready in an interview with the NFL Network: “Washington needs to get their money back.”
2018 — Cowboys 31, Washington 23: Washington was still in a daze from the devastating leg injury that happened the Sunday prior to Smith. The team tried to rally around Colt McCoy, whose play in 2014 on “Monday Night Football” helped upset the Cowboys, but Washington didn’t have the firepower to keep up with Dallas. The loss was the start of an unraveling for Washington, which lost four of its last five to miss the playoffs. Before Smith’s injury, Washington was 6-3 and in first place in the East.
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