Gil LeBreton

Old rivals Cowboys, Redskins back on Monday night stage

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t invent Monday Night Football. But as the late Tex Schramm used to tell it, they were there in the room when it happened.

When the Cowboys meet Washington on Monday night at AT&T Stadium, it will mark the surly rivalry’s 16th game in front of the Monday night cameras.

ABC-TV no longer does the games. Hank Williams Jr. no longer reminds us that all his rowdy friends are there. And the Cowboys-Redskins showdown itself no longer inspires the can’t-look-away drama that the matchup used to.

But the idea still works, even if the tepid allotment of games doesn’t. Players seem to still enjoy having the national TV stage all to themselves. And the home fans — how shall I put this? — have never disapproved of the extra hours of liquid “preparation.”

Are you ready for some football?

The first game I ever covered for this newspaper as its Cowboys beat reporter was 34 years ago — a Monday night game against the Redskins.

Later that season it was on Monday Night Football that Howard Cosell interrupted the Miami-New England telecast with the news that the music had died:

“Yes, we have to say it,” Cosell began. “Remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses.

“An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead ... on ... arrival.”

The 1983 Cowboys-Redskins game at RFK Stadium was voted one of the top five Monday Night Football telecasts of all time. Trailing 23-3 at halftime, quarterback Danny White rallied the Cowboys to a 31-30 victory, with tight end Doug Cosbie catching the final touchdown.

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Two years later came the birthday night that Washington’s Joe Theismann still remembers. Theismann threw five interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns — anybody remember “Thurman’s Thieves”? — as the Cowboys won 44-14 and the Texas Stadium crowd serenaded the 36-year-old quarterback with a loud, jeering chorus of Happy Birthday.

Later that season the Chicago Bears’ William “Refrigerator” Perry ambulated from his customary defensive tackle position to the backfield, where he ran for his first career touchdown — on Monday Night Football.

In that 1985 season’s 11th week, the Giants’ Lawrence Taylor made a crushing tackle of Theismann, fracturing his leg in a horrific scene that haunts some viewers still. It, too, happened on Monday Night Football.

The ABC Monday night stage was also where the replacement Redskins infamously defeated the not-all-replacement Cowboys 13-7 during the 1987 strike season.

There also was the 1991 game, when Emmitt Smith had the flu and couldn’t play at crunch time as Super Bowl-bound Washington came back and beat the Cowboys 33-31. That, too, was on a Monday night.

Cosell and Don Meredith are sadly gone, and ABC itself lost the Monday night franchise to ESPN in 2006. Monday nights, even with the Cowboys and Redskins reuniting, have never quite been the same.

There seems to be pro football on every night — and even morning — these days. By Monday nights lately, nobody really cares whether the network shows the Sunday highlights or not.

The Cowboys have an 8-7 edge in Monday night meetings with Washington. There are TV sitcoms that don’t last for 16 episodes.

The streaking Cowboys are heavily favored, but favorites have seldom mattered in this series. And it’s Monday night.

Are you ready for some football?

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