The Last Cowboys 8-Touchdown Game Launched a Dynasty … For Their Bitter Rivals

It was a rough night all around for the Washington Football Team on Sunday. But Washington fans, take heart. History is on your side.

The Dallas Cowboys have done pretty much everything over the course of their 61-year history in the NFL. From a winless inaugural season in 1960 to five Super Bowl titles in a span of 25 seasons, there are few, if any, more accomplished franchises than “America’s Team.”

But before Sunday night’s wipeout of Washington, the Cowboys had only once in their history scored eight touchdowns in a single game. The second time came on Sunday in a 56-14 rout of Washington, in which Dallas led 42-7 at the half and Washington players were getting in fights on the sideline.

But a funny thing happened the first time Dallas sank the 8-ball. Washington, of course, is arguably the Cowboys’ biggest rival. But back in 1980, the Cowboys welcomed a team to Texas Stadium that had precious little history with Dallas. But by the time that early October afternoon was over, the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers would be linked for the next 15 years as perhaps the fiercest rivalry in the game.

More important and historically significant, while no one understood it at the time, Dallas’ 59-14 victory over the 49ers on Oct. 12, 1980, was the birthplace of the Joe Montana-Bill Walsh dynasty in San Francisco that dominated the 1980s.

So be careful what you wish for, Cowboys fans.

Dallas Silences Steve Deberg with eight touchdowns, but the 49ers had no ordinary Joe

Joe Montana faces the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1980s
Joe Montana | Getty Images

The 1980 season was one of transition for both the Cowboys and 49ers, particularly at quarterback. In Dallas, it was suddenly life without Captain Comeback, as the legendary Roger Staubach had retired after the 1979 season.

It was now Danny White’s turn to run the Cowboys offense, and for 60 years no one ran it better than White on Oct. 12, 1980, throwing four touchdown passes, including three to 2021 Hall of Fame inductee Drew Pearson, in a 59-14 rout of the 49ers. The Cowboys scored eight touchdowns against the 49ers to set a franchise record and plummet the 49ers deeper into an eight-game losing streak.

The loss proved a turning point of seismic proportions for second-year head coach Bill Walsh and second-year quarterback Joe Montana. The weeks leading up to the Dallas game were all about DeBerg’s laryngitis and the bizarre speaker system the 49ers built and put under DeBerg’s jersey so he could be heard by his linemen at the scrimmage line.

The contraption was finally gone for the Dallas game, but the Cowboys made his life just as miserable, and the next week Montana made his first career start.

Revenge wasn’t just sweet in 1981, it was the blueprint for changing the NFC guard

By the end of the 1980 season, Montana had become the permanent starter, and announced himself at the professional level in early December, leading the 49ers on a second-half comeback from a 35-7 deficit to the New Orleans Saints to a 38-35 overtime victory, still the biggest regular-season deficit ever overcome.

“When we were losing those eight straight games, we were making progress,” Walsh told the East Bay Times in 2006. “When you lose, you lose, but we were establishing the foundation that it took for us the next year to win the Super Bowl.”

Before that Super Bowl, the 49ers would get a regular-season rematch against the Cowboys almost a year to the day of the 59-14 game. This time, the game was played at Candlestick Park, and the 49ers got revenge in an eerily-similar fashion, blowing out the Cowboys 45-14. It was Dallas’ worst defeat in over a decade.

Walsh would later call this game the best-coached game of his career, because of the way the team responded to the 45-point loss the year before.

“I think everybody was thinking about last year’s game against Dallas,” Montana said after the game. “Anyway, they are America’s team, you know.”

The ‘Catch’ was a crushing blow for the Landry dynasty, while San Francisco became Super


The Dallas Cowboys Team That Blew out Washington Can Win a Super Bowl

The Cowboys would return to Candlestick a few months later to play the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. While the twin blowouts between the two teams may be largely forgotten, everyone who was there or watched it on CBS remembers how that game ended.

Dwight Clark’s “Catch” in the final minute provided the margin of victory in a 28-27 win that sent the 49ers onto their decade of dominance. Two weeks later, Montana and Walsh co-authored a Super Bowl victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The 49ers would win two more titles under Walsh, then a fourth with George Siefert as head coach. Siefert and Young would complete the 49ers dynasty with a fifth Super Bowl in 1994.

For the Cowboys, the Landry era of dominance was over. The Cowboys would return to a third straight NFC Championship the following season, but get blown out by Washington and not advance beyond the divisional round for the remainder of Landry’s tenure.

It would not be until Jerry Jones purchased the team and replaced Landry with Jimmy Johnson that the Cowboys would rise again, beating the 49ers in consecutive NFC Championship Games in the early 1990s to begin a stretch of three Super Bowl victories in four seasons.

Neither franchise has been to a Super Bowl since 1995. The Cowboys are hoping their huge rout of Washington sends them on their way. Washington is hoping the same thing.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference