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Why The Redskins Once Needed Dandy Don Meredith

Don Meredith passed away Sunday. If you are a football fan of a certain age, Meredith was the Dandy Don of the Monday Night Football trio of Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Meredith.  A generation of fans grew up with MNF, when Monday was the biggest night of football.

If you are my age, Meredith was the nemesis from the Dallas just when the Cowboys emerged as a power team in the ‘Sixties. To really understand the importance of Meredith to the Washington Redskins, you had to see…not read about, but see…the epic passing duels between Dandy Don and Sonny Jurgensen in the 1965 through 1967 seasons.

The Redskins and Cowboys in four games produced a combined total of 222 points with only 10 points of overall difference between the two teams.

Jurgy snatches victory from jaws of defeat 

November 28, 1965, DC Stadium. The Cowboys slapped the Skins with a 21-0 lead on a pass play, a running play and a 60 yard fumble recovery. Despite Jurgensen’s 26 yard TD strike to Charley Taylor, the fans in the stands, as impatient as always, called for Sonny to be benched in favor of second string QB Dick Shiner. Jurgy drove the Redskins down field for a second touchdown to cut the Cowboys lead to 24-13. The Skins scored another touchdown on the ground to make it 24-20. Meredith tossed a 53 yard scoring strike to Frank Clarke. Against any other team the Redskins would have folded. Against the Cowboys, Jurgensen pulled another dart from his quiver with a 10 yard pass to Bobby Mitchell. Cowboys 31-27. The Boys couldn’t move the ball but used a lot of clock. The Redskins got the ball on their 20 yard line with less than two minutes to go. Jurgy gained nine yards on a busted play. Chuck Howley was called for pass interference on the next play, then Jurgensen completed a 22 yard pass play to Jerry Smith. Next Jurgensen tossed a bomb to Bobby Mitchell that carried to the Dallas 5 yard line. Jurgensen’s pass to tight end Angelo Coia gave the Redskins their first lead, 34-31, with about one minute to play.

Meredith was not done. He drove the Cowboys to the Redskins 37 yard line with seven seconds to go. With every orifice in every Redskins fan clinched tight, Danny Villaneuva attempted a tying field goal. It was blocked by Redskins defensive back Lonnie Sanders.

Jurgensen was 26 of 42 passes for 411 yards and 3 TD passes. He also ran for a score. The Redskins gained 51 yards on the ground.

Dandy Don on the comeback trail

November 13, 1966, DC Stadium. The Cowboys featured “the fastest man in football” in the person of Bob Hayes. He was dangerous. In the second quarter with the score 7-6 Dallas, Meredith threw a 52 yard touchdown bomb to Bullet Bob, followed in the third quarter with a 95 yard repeat. Cowboys 21-7. Washington scored three consecutive times with Jurgensen’s 4 yard pass to Jerry Smith and 78 yard pass to Charlie Taylor, followed by a Charlie Gogolak field goal. Redskins 23-21. Meredith drove the Cowboys down field to set up a 1 yard TD run by Dan Reeves. The Skins came back on a drive ending with Jurgensen’s 18 yard scoring toss to Charlie Taylor. Skins 30-28.

Meredith got the ball back with no timeouts and the Redskins playing deep prevent. He threw a 26 yard pass to Pete Gent. On the next play Meredith rolled out for a 12 yard gain and ran out of bounds, stopping the clock. The Redskins were 59 seconds from victory. Two plays to Walt Garrison were inconsequential. On third and nine, Meredith completed another pass to Pete Gent that carried the Cowboys to the Redskins 33. The Redskins mounted a strong pass rush to push the Cowboys out of field goal range. Meredith was hit just as he scrambled out of bounds. The penalty put the ‘Boys on the Redskins 12 for an easy Villanueva field goal. Cowboys 31-30.

Meredith completed 21 of 28 passes for 406 yards and 2 TDs. Jurgensen was 26 of 35 for 347 yards and 3 scores.

Meredith missed the rematch on December 11, 1966, but Washington upset the Cowboys 34-31. Dallas won the Eastern Conference title then lost to the Green Bay Packers. 

Cowboys escape the Redskins

October 8, 1967, DC Stadium. This was the lowest scoring of the four games. The Redskins led 14-10 with 70 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys took possession on their 29. Meredith completed a 17 yarder to Craig Baynham, who ran out of bounds. The next two plays were inconsequential. Meredith hit Lance Renzel for 12 yards and a second time for 6. On fourth down with 23 seconds remaining, Meredith hit an open Dan Reeves who beat out linebacker Chris Hanberger to score. Cowboys 17-14. After the kick-off with 7 seconds to go, Jurgensen pitched a long bomb (in the Cold War era, there were a lot of football references to “bombs”) to Charlie Taylor, who was brought to ground at the Cowboys 20 yard line as time ran out.

The Redskins of the ‘Sixties were lousy teams despite the efforts of four Hall of Fame players: Jurgensen, Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor, and Sam Huff. When the Redskins might have lost a generation of fans–and their children and grandchildren, Meredith was the perfect foil to Jurgensen. Their rivalry seeded season ticket sales and the waiting list that followed.  

In fiction writing, the greatness of the hero is set by the threat of the antagonist. Don Meredith was that antagonist when Redskins owner George Preston Marshall needed something to hold fan interest. The very existence of the Cowboys threatened to cut off the Redskins southern fan base. Cowboys quarterback Meredith was as important to the Redskins franchise as he was to the Cowboys. 

Meredith retired from football in 1968 and from the broadcast booth in 1984. His final football show was Super Bowl 19 with Frank Gifford and Joe Theisman. 

A portion of this story was originally published on the Running Redskins blog in 2006 in a three-part series about the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. Part II – Aces Wild.

DMagazine.comDon Meredith: The First Dallas Cowboys