It’s not like the Atlanta Falcons have never beaten the Dallas Cowboys - they’ve managed to win eight times in 24 meetings with the Cowboys. But for me, some of the Falcons’ worst nightmares and most crushing defeats have come against “America’s Team”, and it’s time for those bad memories to end.
For as long as I can remember, going back to the early 1970’s, it seemed like every time the Falcons were in a position to be able to puff out their chests a little, the Cowboys found a way to completely deflate their egos.
The series between these two diametrically opposed franchises began in 1966, Atlanta’s first season in the NFL. Dallas had already taken their place as one of the top teams in the league by that time, and crushed the fledgling Falcons 47-14.
Let the beatings begin.
For the next four meetings spanning 1967-1974, it was the Cowboys making short work of Atlanta, including two shutouts in 1970 and 1974. The Falcons finally broke through with their first ever win over the Cowboys in 1976.
The next time the two teams would meet would be in the playoffs. 1978 was the first year Atlanta made the postseason, and the first time Falcons fans had a real reason to be excited.
The Falcons were able to sneak by the Philadelphia Eagles 14-13 on the strength of kicker Tim Mazzetti’s leg, as they hosted the wild card game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Then it was off to Irving, Tx., to face the team they had only beaten once in franchise history.
The Falcons came into the game with QB Steve Bartkowski (who would end up winning Rookie of the Year honors), a potent running game and one of the few defenses in the league, the—the “Grits Blitz”—that could actually match-up with the Cowboys vaunted “Doomsday Defense”.
It was finally time for Atlanta fans to start chirping.
After scoring on their first four drives and going into halftime with a 20-13 league, it seemed as though the Falcons had finally come into their own. They were going to be counted among the elite teams in the NFL.
Then it happened.
The Falcons blitzing LB Robert Pennywell smacked Dallas All-Pro QB Roger Staubach to the turf, and out of the game. Atlanta fans, myself included, could feel it. This was the sign that the Falcons were destined to win this game.
Enter Danny White.
The Cowboys backup QB came into the game and took control. It was obvious the Falcons had not prepared for White, and he brought the Cowboys back on a 54-yard game tying drive.
A bad Atlanta punt, and a Scott Laidlaw touchdown run later, the Falcons found themselves on the losing end of a 27-20 game. Crushed by White and poor special teams play, Atlanta limped out of Texas to come home and rebuild.
A couple of seasons passed before the Cowboys and Falcons renewed their rivalry, and wouldn’t you know it, it was once again in the divisional round of the playoffs. But this time Atlanta got to host the Cowboys, and hopefully exact some revenge for the deflating playoff defeat two seasons earlier.
This 1980 playoff game is featured as one of the NFL’s Greatest Games as the Duel in Dixie.
Atlanta once again jumped out to an early lead, and went into the fourth quarter with a 24-10 lead over the seemingly over-matched Cowboys. But Dallas scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter led by—you guessed it—Danny White, and his favorite receiver, Drew Pearson.
Dallas had once again brought an abrupt end to the Falcons championship hopes with a 30-27 win.
Since that terrible afternoon in Atlanta, the Cowboys have continued to be a thorn in the side of the Falcons, winning nine of the next 16 meetings, and almost always coming away with a victory when it seemed to hurt the Falcons the most.
This week the Cowboys come into the Georgia Dome facing a Falcons team that is 7-0 for the first time in franchise history, and looking for a Super Bowl appearance for the first time since 1998-99. Conversely, the Cowboys are 3-4 and searching for answers to mounting criticism about their starting quarterback, head coach and owner.
It’s time for the Falcons to exorcise their Dallas demons, and bring an end to the torment that the boys in silver, blue and white have given them over the years. Atlanta can make a statement not only about how good they really are this year, but also that they are done being bullied by Dallas. A victory over the Cowboys would almost assure the Falcons that they would not meet them for a third playoff rematch this year, which is probably a good thing.
But just one thing, to the Falcons defense, let Tony Romo finish the game for the Cowboys. History, and Romo’s performance this season, says you’ll stand a much better chance of coming away with a win if you do.