When Jerry Jones hired Jimmy Johnson to coach the Cowboys in 1989 Johnson had a plan. He was going to build the Cowboys his way and bring back the glory days. Although the 1-15 record of 1989 was not a season to remember, there was one game that stood out as a stepping stone for future success for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys went into RFK Stadium to play the hated Redskins with a 0-8 record. Jimmy Johnson had young talent like Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Michael Irvin, Mark Stepnoski, Ken Norton Jr. and Tony Tolbert. Johnson also had some veteran holdovers from the Tom Landry days like Tom Rafferty, Bill Bates, Jim Jeffcoat and Ed (Too Tall) Jones.
On this night it would be an unlikely player taking the stage for the Cowboys. A dominating defense and a great running game brought the Redskins to their knees and gave the Cowboys their first and only win of 1989.
The Cowboys defense intercepted two passes from Redskins quarterback Doug Williams in the first half. Williams was starting his first game since back surgery in August. One came from cornerback Vince Albritton and the other came from safety Bill Bates with 24 seconds left in the second quarter. Bates made his interception at the Cowboys 48 yard line and returned it 18 yards to the Redskins 34 yard line. Steve Walsh playing for the injured Troy Aikman drove the Cowboys to the three yard line. After a Walsh incompletion, Jimmy Johnson settled for a Roger Ruzek 20 yard field goal to take a 3-0 halftime lead.
“I felt like we could win the game then,” Johnson said. “The way our defense was playing, I didn’t think Washington would score a lot of points.”
In the third quarter the Redskins tied the game at 3-3 with some help from instant replay. With the Redskins driving into Cowboys territory, officials ruled that Ark Monk fumbled at the Cowboys 35 yard line after Ron Francis stripped him giving the ball to the Cowboys. But after the officials went to instant replay the call was reversed because Monks knee was down before he was stripped. The Redskins got to the Cowboys 18 yard when kicker Chip Lohmiller connected on a 35 yard field goal to tie the game.
Late in the third quarter it was an unlikely hero who took control of the running game. Paul Palmer, who was part of the Herschel Walker trade in 1989, broke free for a 47 yard run. Blocks from Tom Raffery, Crawford Ker and Mark Tuinei allowed Palmer’s long run. Then with 2:17 left in the third quarter Palmer finished the drive with a two yard touchdown run. The Cowboys took the lead 10-3.
“Once I got through the line, I got some great blocks,” Palmer said. “I just didn’t have enough gas to take it to the house.”
With the Cowboys defense continuing to dominate the Redskins into the fourth quarter, Palmer’s touchdown would be all that they needed to come away with the victory. Palmer finished the game with 110 yards rushing on 18 carries.
The Cowboys added another Roger Ruzek field goal from 43 yards and the first victory of the season was theirs, 13-3. The win was an important step for Jimmy Johnson and the Cowboys.
“The rocky days are not over for the Cowboys,” said Johnson, whose NFL coaching record stands at 1-8. “But I’m happy to get the win. We’re going to have a lot of wins over the next so-many years in Dallas, and it’s good to get it started.”
“We caught the Redskins at a tough time,” said safety Bill Bates, whose interception led to the Cowboys’ first points. “They had a couple of players injured, and they were trying to get Doug Williams into the offense, so I know it was a good time to play them. But anytime you beat them is a good time.”
“I’m really happy for our club,” said Johnson, who immediately rewarded the players with a day off Monday. “They’ve been working very hard, and it’s been a very frustrating year.”
Steve Walsh only completed 10 of 30 passes for 142 yards, but controlled the game and never made any mistakes. The leading receiver for the Cowboys was Kelvin Martin who caught five passes for 93 yards.
The box score can be seen here.