IRVING, Texas Joe Gibbs understands what ''Redskins vs. Cowboys'' used to mean as well as anyone. He also realizes that Dallas winning 14 of the last 15 games has taken away much of the meaning.
''In order to have a great rivalry, both teams have to be winning some games. Lately against Dallas, we haven't been able to do that,'' Gibbs said. ''Until we start doing that, it's kind of hard to have a modern-day rivalry.''
So Gibbs is doing all he can to give Monday night's game the juiced-up intensity of yesteryear, back when George Allen accused the Cowboys of putting spies in trees to peek on Washington practices, and Tom Landry filmed a popular commercial in which the punch line featured him ''surrounded by Redskins.''
Gibbs began stirring up things at a public event in early August, calling Cowboys fans ''the ugliest people in the world.'' He apologized the next day, saying he got caught up in the moment and trying to smooth things out by adding that some of his best friends not to mention one of the main sponsors of his NASCAR team live in Dallas.
Regardless, the tone was set. He even built on it soon after by having Joe Theismann, Charles Mann, Joe Jacoby and several other ex-Redkins talk to the team about what it means to wear the burgundy and gold. They emphasized a hatred for all things silver and blue, especially when it involves a star on a helmet.
Repeatedly reminded of that message this week, several veteran players took it a step further by calling Cowboys rookie linebacker DeMarcus Ware and warning him to be ready for what's coming.
It's all fun to an extent. After all, the longest-tenured member of the Redskins has been there only since 1999, and most arrived in the last few years. To them, payback for a pair of 3-point losses last season is enough incentive.
''You've got enough guys who are sick of losing who know what it takes,'' said second-year running back Clinton Portis. ''It don't take a pep talk or a rah-rah (speech) or bringing somebody in from the dead to get us hyped. ... We've just got to go out and play football.''
The game itself has some pretty good subplots, starting with a pair of opening-day winners angling for a 2-0 start and an early leg up in the division.
Quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe of Dallas and Mark Brunell of Washington provide an interesting pairing, too.
They've been going at each other since the early 1990s, when Bledsoe was at Washington State and Brunell was at the University of Washington. Both were drafted in 1993 Bledsoe first overall; Brunell 118th and are now in the reclamation phase of their career.
Brunell was hand-picked by Gibbs to run his offense when he returned last season, but lost the job to Patrick Ramsey. He got it back a few series into the opener and led the Redskins to a 9-7 victory over Chicago. Although the Redskins were among only two teams not to score a touchdown in the opener, Brunell expects big things in Year 2 of Gibbs' second-go round in Washington.
''We've played only one game, but for the most part guys are more comfortable with what we're doing,'' Brunell said.
Bledsoe was so good in his debut with the Cowboys that he was selected the NFC offensive player of the week. Through five games, counting the preseason, he's yet to throw an interception and has done a nice job of ''managing a game'' the way coach Bill Parcells wants.
The Redskins will provide the perfect test of his new demeanor. Not only is their defense heavy on blitzes, it is orchestrated by Gregg Williams, who presumably gained insight on how to rattle Bledsoe by coaching him for two years in Buffalo.
''He will make things as hard on me as he can,'' Bledsoe said. ''He takes pride in trying to put pressure on the quarterback and trying to devise schemes to confuse your protection and try to get in the backfield. If we can handle it, we are going to have opportunities to make plays.''
The Cowboys will be wearing throwback jerseys to their inaugural team from 1960, but they hope to look like the recent vintage against the Redskins.
Dallas has won ever game since the second matchup in 1997, except one in 2002. But the scores haven't been lopsided: seven of the last eight games were decided by a touchdown or less.
The Redskins haven't won in Texas Stadium since 1995, when Heath Shuler was quarterback and the Cowboys were cruising to a Super Bowl title. Coincidentally, the offensive stars of that team Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin will be added to the club's Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony.
Hmm. For the Redskins, the idea of turning that happy occasion into a Dallas loss is just something else they can use for motivation.
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