It is currently 7:04am on January 1, 2012. As I wait for my wife to wake up, I am sitting in my living room eating a bowl of oatmeal, drinking a cup of tea, and watching the Cowboys @ Giants game from January 1994. The NFL Network labels it “Emmitt’s Gutsiest Game”. You know the one—Emmitt Smith separated his right shoulder near the end of the first half, yet he remained in the game and carried Dallas to an overtime victory in the regular season finale. It is a similar situation to the game that will take place tonight: Cowboys at Giants, winner wins the NFC East. The stakes of that 1994 game were significantly higher—the winner would earn home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and the loser would have to go to San Francisco in the second round—but what strikes me more right now is that the game marked the end of an era.
Only two weeks earlier, CBS lost its NFC broadcast rights to Fox. January 2, 1994 marked the last CBS broadcast of a regular season NFL Game until 1998. Back then, though, CBS meant the NFC. The network has never really recovered from that lost. Football still isn’t right on Fox, and the AFC just doesn’t carry the same cachet for CBS now that the NFC did back then.
Due to conflicting egos, this game was also the last regular season game for Jimmy Johnson as head coach of the Cowboys. Special circumstances are required for a coach to get fired weeks after winning a championship. Even Paul Westhead kept his job with the Lakers for more than a year after winning the NBA title. We may never see anything play out like the Jimmy and Jerry saga ever again.
Lawrence Taylor. Phil Simms. This was the final regular season game in the careers of both legendary Giants. No two players symbolize the Bill Parcells era in New York like those two. They are just two of the players who made the NFC East what it was.
Speaking of my favorite division, this game, which appropriately went to overtime, was the last great moment of the old NFC East. Sure, Dallas went on a win a Super Bowl a couple of years later under Barry Switzer, but the rest of the division wasn’t the same. 1993 was the last year that the entire division (I mean, who really considered the Cardinals part of the division?) were contenders.
This game was the perfect end to the era. It was close, hard-hitting, and legendary. And it was called by John Madden and Pat Summerall.