As the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team Renew Pleasantries, We Remember When They Ruined the Fun for Everyone
The Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Football Team meet for the first time in the 2021 season on Sunday, and the stakes could not be higher. The 8-4 Cowboys currently hold a two-game lead over Washington (6-6) in the NFC East, but with the teams meeting twice over the next three weeks, things can change in a hurry.
It is a familiar scenario for these two bitter rivals, no matter the stakes. And never were the regular-season stakes higher than 38 years ago this week, when home-field advantage for the 1983 NFL playoffs was on the line between Tom Landry’s Cowboys and Joe Gibbs’ defending Super Bowl champs.
Washington won that Sunday afternoon, with Pat Summerall and John Madden calling the game for CBS on Dec. 11, 1983. But the ramifications of the 31-10 victory at Texas Stadium went far beyond the NFC standings.
This was the game that ultimately caused the NFL to become re-branded the following spring as the No Fun League. And it was all thanks to what had been the zenith of end zone celebrations: The Fun Bunch.
In the early 1980s, Washington’s opponents were on the receiving end of a new end zone celebration
Few teams were as colorful as Washington in the early 1980s. The offensive line was known as the Hogs. The diminutive wide receiving corps was dubbed the Smurfs. John Riggins was almost unstoppable at running back. But it was when quarterback Joe Theismann connected with a receiver for a touchdown that the celebration began.
Wide receivers Art Monk, Charlie Brown, Virgil Seay, and Alvin Garrett, along with tight ends Clint Didier and Rick Walker, devised an end zone celebration that they dubbed “The Fun Bunch.”
First, a half-dozen players made a circle in the end zone, then they rocked their arms forward and back three times before all jumped in unison and high-fived at the apex before returning to the sideline.
It lacked the style points of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s end zone dances or the unbridled exuberance of the New York Jets’ Mark Gastineau after a sack, but the Fun Bunch was distinctive, and in 1982, Washington Fun Bunched it all the way to a Super Bowl XVII title. So, naturally, their opponents hated it. And Dallas really hated it.
The Cowboys didn’t find anything fun about Washington’s antics…neither did the NFL
When Art Monk broke open that critical December 1983 game with a 42-yard touchdown, the Cowboys were not about to let the Fun Bunch fly in their house.
Defensive backs Ron Fellows and Dennis Thurman walked into the circle as the Washington players prepared to bunch it up. The result was an awkward leap, offsetting unnecessary roughing penalties, and a near melee.
And that, it turned out, was enough for the league to see. The fun was getting out of hand and dangerous. In March 1984, the ban on “excessive celebrations” was added to the rule book. That was the end of the Fun Bunch.
“I’ve never heard of anything that ridiculous,” Charlie Brown told the Washington Post. “Haven’t they got more important things to do than worry about the Fun Bunch?”
Tom Landry had no fun at all as the Dallas dynasty crumbled before his eyes
But what no one knew at the time, even before the Fun Bunch Brawl on Monk’s touchdown, was that another of the game’s institutions was about to come to an end.
For almost two decades, Landry’s Cowboys had been a perennial Super Bowl contender. They had been to five Super Bowls in the 1970s, winning twice. And in the three previous seasons, with Danny White having replaced retired legend Roger Staubach, the Cowboys had gone to three straight NFC Championship Games, losing to Washington the year before.
But now, early in the third quarter, with Dallas trailing just 14-10, the Cowboys lined up for a 4th-and-1 from the 50. Landry wanted White to run out the play clock, take the delay of game penalty, and punt. But White had other ideas. He audibled a doomed running play and snapped it with one second on the play clock, while Landry, caught on CBS’ cameras, screamed “No, Danny! No!” to no avail.
Dallas lost three yards. Monk scored a few minutes later. The Dallas dynasty was effectively over.
No fun in Big D. No fun at all.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference