The Cowboys and Packers are two iconic franchises with a rich history that stretches back nearly 60 years.
Now that Ken Burns has beautifully told the story of country music, the filmmaker may want to tackle what this rivalry means to the fabric of the NFL and document its place in the American sports culture. There is no shortage of captivating personalities and memorable moments.
Word of caution: Cowboys fans will want to skip the episode that deals with this decade.
Any series that goes back this far contains ebbs and flows. The success the Cowboys enjoyed in the 1990s made the frustration of the Ice Bowl era a distant memory.
And now? Green Bay has inflicted two, heart-breaking playoff losses on Dallas in the last five years. A Packers blowout of the Cowboys in an otherwise non-descript regular season game nearly nine years ago led to Jason Garrett being installed as head coach.
The Packers even had the audacity to win a Super Bowl on the Cowboys home field, a venue that has never yielded more than a Wild Card victory for Dallas.
Green Bay arrives at AT&T Stadium for Sunday afternoon’s 3:25 p.m. kickoff having won six of the seven games played between the two teams this decade. Many of the key figures from earlier games are gone.
Aaron Rodgers, the primary author of the Cowboys demise, remains. More than any other player in recent years, the Packers quarterback has stood between the franchise and playoff success.
“Some things you never forget,’’ tight end Jason Witten said. “There have been a couple of those games that I’ll never forget.
“I think a lot of guys around here won’t forget.’’
The rise of Garrett
Garrett started nine games at quarterback in his 12-year NFL career. Two of those came against Green Bay. One came on Thanksgiving Day in ’94 when Garrett led the Cowboys to a 42-31 comeback win that earned him the NFC Player of the Week award.
“Yeah, that’s a long time ago,’’ Garrett said. “That is a lifetime ago.
“Great memories for me, both of those games.’’
Garrett also has the Packers to thank for the start of his head coaching career.
The Cowboys had gotten off to a 1-6 start under Wade Phillips heading into Lambeau Field in November of ’10. A 45-7 loss to Green Bay sealed his fate.
Ownership fired Phillips and turned to Garrett, the offensive coordinator they had in place before hiring Phillips three-and-a-half years earlier.
“That was difficult because we had such great respect for Wade, but we really felt like needed to go in a different direction to get energy back in the team,’’ executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We had in our mind that Jason was the heir apparent to Wade, and we wanted to start to see what Jason could do.’’
Garrett became the interim coach. He had the interim label removed after leading the team to a 5-3 record in the second half of the season.
“I remember Jason coming into the team meeting and saying, ‘look, we’re going to be evaluated on what we do moving forward right now,’’’ Witten recalled. “Talk about not blinking, taking over a team 1-7. He was unfazed. I think the team responded.
“It probably was not the ideal circumstance, but I thought he did a hell of a job.’’
“Dez caught it’’
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) appears to catch a critical fourth quarter pass over Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37),, but the pass was ruled incomplete when Bryant failed to maintain control when he hit the ground, during the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Green Bay Packers NFL football game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Sunday, January 11, 2015.
(Louis DeLuca / Staff Photographer)
The playoff game between the Cowboys and Packers in January of ’15 was no Ice Bowl. The temperature was 24 degrees at kickoff and was constant throughout with little to no breeze. The Artic conditions that assaulted both teams at Lambeau Field more than 47 years earlier in a game that will forever life in NFL lore were absent.
Still, it produced an indelible moment.
“Yeah, well, Dez caught it,’’ Witten said. “That’s the first thing that comes to mind.’’
The play came with 4:06 left. Receiver Dez Bryant had been double-teamed for much of the game.
But on fourth-and-two from the Green Bay 32-yard line, the Packers showed single coverage. Quarterback Tony Romo went deep on the 525 F Post, a fade route he had completed to Bryant time and time again throughout their careers.
Bryant made a spectacular catch over cornerback Sam Shields to get down to the 1-yard line. In the suite where they were sitting, Stephen Jones, who is on the league’s competition committee, told his father and brother there was a good chance the catch would be overturned.
Upon review the officials reversed their initial ruling, saying Bryant didn’t complete the process of the catch because the ball hit the ground.
The Packers got the ball and held on for the 26-21 victory.
“The catch, no catch is an all-timer,’’ Jones said. “It’s something you will always think about.
“Not to put any cold water on Cowboys fans, but there was quite a bit of clock left, even if we had scored a touchdown there. There was no guarantee that we were going to win the game the way Rodgers was playing.’’
The Cowboys have failed to advance to the NFC Championship Game since its last Super Bowl title in ’96. This loss is arguably the biggest disappointment in that long, barren stretch.
“No question,’’ Jones said. “I think Romo was having a great year that year, playing at a high level. Aaron was a little banged up in that game, started off slow, got his wind in the second half.
“If we had beaten the Packers, I think we had a great chance to move on and ultimately have a shot.’’
Instead, the legacy of this game is the public debate that raged about what constitutes a catch.
Randall Cobb had eight receptions for 116 yards for the Packers in that victory. He now plays for Dallas.
Well, what does he think? Did Dez catch it?
“I was waiting on that,’’ Cobb said to laughter when surrounded by reporters earlier this week. “I’ve been getting that a lot since I’ve been here. We didn’t know what the rules were back then.
“It’s probably a catch nowadays.’’
Asked if there’s a play that illustrates how challenging it is to defend Rodgers, what makes him one of the best to play the position, Garrett said there’s no, one play that comes to mind.
Green Bay faced a third-and-20 with 12 seconds left in the Divisional Playoff game at AT&T Stadium two years ago. The score was tied. The Cowboys were in a Cover 2 zone with six defensive backs. They rushed three linemen.
Rodgers was able to get outside of the pocket and find tight end Jared Cook on a drag route to the sidelines.
“I thought he was out of bounds at first,’’ linebacker Sean Lee said. “Where it was on the sidelines, it looked like an impossible throw.
“When they reviewed it, you obviously can’t see highlights on the field. But the reaction on our sideline was not good.
“It was devastating.’’
It was a 36-yard gain.
“I think he threw it a couple of yards out of bound,’’ Lee said. “A great catch also by Cook.’’
Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired gave the Packers a 34-31 victory.
“He’s something special,’’ Witten said of Rodgers.
“As a quarterback, you’ve got to forget things pretty quick,’’ Dak Prescott said. “So I forgot about that.’’
The Cowboys haven’t won a home game against the Packers since they played at Texas Stadium. They are 2-6 in games Rodgers has started.
“It’s time for us to have some success,’’ linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “Extra edge playing against a great quarterback, No. 12, Aaron Rodgers. It’s going to take all we’ve got.’’
Matt LaFleur is in his first season as the Packers head coach. He takes over after Mike McCarthy’s 13-year run.
There are differences in how this offense attacks under LaFleur. Green Bay also comes into this game with its top receiver in Davante Adams. But…
“There are differences, but he’s Aaron Rodgers, so we know what’s coming,’’ Smith said. “He’s Aaron Rodgers.’’
He’s the one quarterback, more than any other, who has kept the Cowboys from advancing to the conference championship game this decade.
Related: Packers WR Davante Adams ruled out for game vs. Cowboys
“Those are special games,’’ Witten said. “Those are games you’ll never forget. As (Bill) Parcells said, that’s why you lift all of those weights to play in those games.
“The game can go either way. It’s a game of inches.
“Those games embody that more than any I’ve played in my career.’’
Catch David Moore on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) with The Musers at 9:35 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and The Hardline at 4:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday through the Super Bowl.