This Sunday the Indianapolis Colts head to Dallas for the first time since 2006. That season, the 5-4 Cowboys knocked off the previous undefeated Colts by a score of 21-14.
That year, the Colts and Cowboys each finished 3-3 to close out the season. The Colts limped toward the finish line behind a putrid run defense, and the Cowboys let a chance at the NFC East crown slip away by losing their final two games.
The playoffs were a different story. The Colts welcomed the return of Bob Sanders and would go on to win the Super Bowl. The Cowboys had certain victory slip away in the Wild Card round against Seattle.
However, that game is not going to be the focus of this week's Throwback Thursday. Instead, I'm taking it back to the last time the Colts left Dallas with a victory: 1996.
It was an early Week 3 match-up between the two. The Colts were 2-0 and the Cowboys were 1-1.
Both teams were coming off of spectacular 1995 seasons. The Colts, on the back of Jim Harbaugh, had finished 9-7, and come within a failed Hail Mary of reaching the Super Bowl. The Cowboys would have been the Colts opponent in that game. Dallas easily dispatched of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the big game to win their third Super Bowl in four years.
I had always said, and still do believe, that the Colts would have met a similar fate against the Cowboys in that game.
The Colts got their chance at the defending champs early the next season.
Despite having the better early record, the Colts entered the game as 10 point underdogs. Certainly that had something to do with the fact that six starters, including Marshall Faulk, were injured and unable to play.
The game started about how many expected it to. Behind a Troy Aikman touchdown, an Emmitt Smith run, and a Deion Sanders fumble return, the Cowboys raced out to a 21-3 lead. Cary Blanchard would add two field goals (25 and 52 yards respectively) to cut the deficit to 21-9 at the half.
In the third quarter, Harbaugh took over. He turned to tight ends Marcus Pollard (48 yard score) and Ken Dilger (8 yards) and brought the Colts back and into the lead. Heading into the final frame, the Colts led 22-21.
Chris Boniol hit a 52 yard field goal of his own at the start of the fourth quarter to give Dallas the lead back. The scoring then stopped until a little under three minutes to go when Blanchard hit his third field goal of the game.
Of course, 2:48 is plenty of time for a team led by Aikman, Smith, and Sanders (who was playing both sides of the ball at this point) to garner a field goal attempt right? Right.
Dallas got close, but not close enough. Boniol was trotted out to attempt a game-winning 57 yard field goal. It clanged off the cross-bar, sealing an improbable Colts win.
So improbable, that Harbaugh had this to say about the game:
"This might be the best win I've ever been associated with."
The victory moved the Colts up to 3-0 on the season, and sent the Cowboys down to 1-2, and in an early hole in trying to repeat as champions.
Both the Colts and Cowboys would finish with winning records, and both would make the playoffs again that year. The Colts would start the season 4-0 before going into a mid-season slump which saw them dip to 5-5 before winning four of their last six. The Cowboys would finish 10-6 and were NFC East champions.
The playoffs brought disappointment for both teams. The Colts headed back to Pittsburgh, where their season was ended the year prior. It wasn't as close this time, as the Steelers walloped the Colts 42-14.
The Cowboys won their Wild Card match-up against the Minnesota Vikings with a 40-15 blowout victory of their own. The next weekend, the defending champions lost to the Kerry Collins led (and Bill Polian assembled) Carolina Panthers.
This weekend, the Colts will be seeking their first win in Dallas in 18 years. To say it's an important game for both teams is an understatement. Dallas is seeking to win-out to wrap up the NFC East, while the Colts are still in the hunt for the third seed (or higher) in the AFC playoff picture.
And if it comes down to a late field goal dual like it did in 1996, you've got to like the Colts chances.