As of this writing, the Dallas Cowboys just lost their most recent game and five of their first six games of the 2010 season. Considering the success the team has seen in previous years and eras this is disappointing, though not to fans of the other 29 National Football League teams, who view the Cowboys in varying degrees of distaste and see this slow start as a form of karma. Nevertheless, fans of the Washington Redskins take great pride in the Cowboys' pain, regardless of whatever fortunes their own team might be in. But a Cowboys fan will likely tell you that it's jealousy brought on postseason success that is more recent that 'Skins fans have seen. Maybe that's the inspiration for this three-disc set of battles between the two titled Greatest Rivalries, released by the NFL Films/Warner Brothers arm.
The three discs include some of the more recent wins by the Cowboys, wins that one would presume demoralized the Redskins and their fans in the process. They include the following games:
11/16/1997 - The team rallied from a 4th quarter deficit with a pass from Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin and a Richie Cunningham field goal to win 17-14
9/12/1999 - The opening game of the year found the team down 35-14 at the start of the 4th quarter. But Aikman and Irvin said, "we got this," rallying to tie and eventually win the game in overtime on an Aikman pass to Rocket Ismail.
11/18/2007 - Terrell Owens all four of the teams' touchdowns en route to the 28-23 pre-Thanksgiving victory.
To the credit of the producers, they focus on the games and the games only. In retrospect, the '97 game was an anomaly, as the team dropped their last five games of the year and did not reach the playoffs, costing coach Barry Switzer his job. The '99 season saw Chan Gailey win the first three games, then lose four of the next five en route to an 8-8 season. The '07 season saw Wade Phillips lead the team to win 12 of their first 13 before bowing out in the Division Playoffs to the Giants.
However, focusing on the games and games only in does a huge disservice to the rivalry. The teams have been playing hard fought games for decades. No matter how bad either team is, if they can split (or even sweep) the two games they face each other each season, the season isn't as bad. Through the years, there have been some memorable tilts, such as Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach engineering a comeback win in 1979 35-34, or the 1983 opener when Danny White led the team to a 31-30 victory. Or in 1989 when Steve Walsh guided the team to its only win of the season, at RFK Stadium in Washington.
Additionally as there aren't any supplements, interview segments or recollections from players or coaches through the years about the rivalry, there's a missing dimension the size of the Grand Canyon on this set. I'm sure Staubach, Randy White, Emmitt Smith or Aikman probably have their own story or two about their treatment in Washington, and I'd even assert that some of the more dedicated Cowboy fans probably do too, be it in creaky old RFK or the more modern and spacious FedEx Field.
I'm lucky (or unlucky?) enough to live near Washington D.C., so I have a fairly clear understanding of the rivalry and the competition that both teams have towards one another. It's the closest thing I can imagine to the rivalries that some English soccer teams have towards one another. But unless you live in either area or support either team, are you really going to get an appreciation for the rivalry based on watching three games from a few years ago that were broadcast on television? I'm thinking no.
Three games, all presented in full-frame video. I was mildly surprised that the '07 contest wasn't in 1.78:1 widescreen, but I'm not making a fuss over it. Each game includes an introduction about how NFL Films tried to protect the quality of the games as much as possible and any flaws are inherent in the source material, similar to Major League Baseball's disclaimer on some of their vintage game collections. There are some missing transitions to and from commercial breaks, but as far as I could tell there weren't many, if any, plays missing from the games. Everything looks similar to what it did on the original broadcasts.
Two-channel stereo sound. It's all up front with little (if any) action or replication in the rear channels. For that matter, the front channels sound a little on the weak side. But hey, any issues are inherent in the source, right? It's acceptable listening material as is.
If you're a Dallas Cowboys fan (or really have some sort of animosity towards the Washington Redskins), then this trio of games in the Greatest Rivalries collection is for you. But until NFL Films/Warner starts explaining why these rivalries are great to those who aren't familiar with them, this release is a niche product within a specific genre, so there's not a lot of value to be gained here.