LANDOVER, Md. (WUSA) -- Washingtonians of a certain age still remember the glorious New Year's Eve of 1972 when Hall of Fame coach George Allen's "Over The Hill Gang" Redskins crushed the hated archrival Dallas Cowboys to reach their first Super Bowl as the RFK Stadium crowd went beserk with joy.
PHOTOS: Redskins Vs. Cowboys Rivalry
And no one who was on hand at RFK 10 years later will forget the fans roaring "We Want Dallas" and shaking the bleachers before Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs' "Fun Bunch" Redskins whipped those Cowboys en route to what would be the burgundy and gold's first championship in four decades.
As former offensive tackle Jim Lachey said in "America's Rivalry," if you grew up in Washington back then, you rooted for the Redskins. Unless you didn't like your parents and rooted for the Cowboys out of spite.
These days that once-unparalled rivalry, which will be played for the 104th time on Sunday in Landover, has lost more punch than a has-been boxer even though eight of the past 10 battles have been decided by a total of 26 points, none by more than six.
Certainly the advent of free agency in 1993 which meant that players began switching teams as a matter of course hurt rivalries since loyalty to an organization and a city became passe. Washington hiring Dallas offensive coordinator Norv Turner as its coach in 1994 didn't help, especially when he imported a slew of ex-Cowboys.
But such rivalries as Ravens-Steelers, Falcons-Saints and Packers-Bears are thriving. The difference is that those teams are winning while Dallas and Washington aren't.
After finishing below .500 in the same season just once from 1971-96 (1988), they did so three times during the past nine years (2002, 2004 and 2010). The Redskins and Cowboys were winners in the same season in just four of the past 18 years, reaching postseason together only in 1999 and 2007.
In contrast in the 22 years from Allen's first season in Washington through the final season of Gibbs' first tenure with the burgundy and gold, the Redskins and Cowboys were both winners 14 times and made the playoffs together nine times, including those two years that they met in the NFC Championship Game.
Fullback Mike Sellers is the only Redskin who can possibly play on Sunday and was on the team as long ago as 2005. But there are a handful of players who feel the rivalry in their bones.
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime to play in this longtime, great rivalry," said cornerback Josh Wilson, an Upper Marlboro native. "A lot of people live and die by Redskins vs. Cowboys. The first professional football game I ever went to was a Redskins-Cowboys Monday night game at RFK Stadium in 1993 with my grandfather (Rossie Wills) when I was 8. We're all Redskins fans in my family, but he was a huge Cowboys fan. I was so excited to go. It was something I'll never forget."
Running back Tim Hightower, 25, won't play Sunday because he's out for the year with a knee injury, but he grew up in Alexandria bleeding burgundy and gold.
"I feel like I've seen every single Redskins-Cowboys game since I started watching football so it's really disappointing that I won't be able to play," said Hightower, who teamed at DeMatha High with Wilson and cornerback Byron Westbrook (then a San Francisco 49ers fan) in 2000. "Plus when you walk off that field with a loss (in Week 3 at Dallas), you want to get another chance at that team to make things right."
Center/guard Will Montgomery, 28, said that Redskins-Cowboys games were all about bragging rights when he was growing up in Clifton.
"I was always a Redskins fan," Montgomery said. "Our neighbors were Cowboys fans and we always gave them a hard time whenever it was Redskins-Cowboys. They're definitely our biggest rival and the games mean a lot to a lot of people."
That's still true even though these days few of those people are in Washington's locker room. After five straight defeats turned a surprising season so sour, beating any foe is all that matters to most Redskins.
WUSA-9's Redskins Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of five books on the Redskins including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."