It would take more than 30,000 football fields to span the gap between Dallas, TX and San Francisco, CA. But all that distance and the disparate lives of each city's citizens may have only served as a catalyst for what NFL Films Senior Producer Paul Camarata dubs the greatest rivalry in the NFL since the merger.
I'm talking about the gold standard of excellence throughout all of History - the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.
Practically half of NFL History belongs to this rivalry. A total of 41 Hall of Fame inductees made either Dallas or San Francisco home for at least part of their careers, but what else are those cities home to?
San Francisco, CA
|The identity of Dallas has evolved quite a bit over time. From President Kennedy's assassination and the bad reputation that followed on a national scale, to "Dallas" the tv show personifying a life of glitz and glamor for all those tuning in. And oh yea... the Dallas Cowboys won 5 Super Bowls.||They're no stranger to assassinations either. Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were taken far too soon in 1978. The Band Played On when the AIDS virus appeared in the Bay Area in 1981. Amidst city-wide tragedies, the 49ers also have a hand full of Super Bowl rings.|
Outside of football, the two cities couldn't be any further apart. California is as blue as the Cowboys' jerseys and Texas is as red as the Niners' jerseys. Even still, the legacies of both teams seem to mimic each other throughout history.
Consider that 49 Super Bowls have been played to date and that 10 of those World Championships belong to this rivalry. Now consider that of those 10 Lombardi Trophies, half have been earned (3 for Dallas / 2 for San Francisco) after playing each other in the NFC Championship Game.
This is more than a rivalry. It is, in the words of Dr. Harry Edwards (49ers Special Consultant), "An ongoing intergenerational feud."
Why is this important?
It's important because the fantastic people over at NFL Films have started a new series that you can watch on NFL Network called The Timeline. This series is inspired by different moments throughout the great history of the National Football League.
Their first episode encapsulated the career, retirements, un-retirements, and football life of Brett Favre. It revolved primarily around Favre's return to Lambeau Field and induction into their Hall of Fame... and the well-deserved retiring of his iconic #4 on Thanksgiving night, 2015.
How do you top 'Ol Gunslinger? With the greatest rivalry since the merger, of course.
Their second episode, a two-parter titled "A Tale Of Two Cities," delves into the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, including moments that mattered most to fans of the two franchises, whether political, cultural, or on the football field.
NFL Films Senior Producer Paul Camarata was gracious enough to take some time to discuss this film, an education of rivalry, NFL History, and what makes both football and films great.
Here's my conversation with Paul.
RJ: What was the inspiration for "A Tale Of Two Cities"? Why this subject matter?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): I think that when we were looking for topics for the new series... we knew that A Football Life was our biography series. We'd done some conceptual shows (The Immaculate Reception, Cleveland '95, Houston '93) and we wanted The Timeline to sort of be inspired by those concepts and by moments rather than players and coaches.
The Timeline is a series that is going to be about the moments that changed history. This particular rivalry emerged as almost one big moment - there were so many individually great moments. We thought... what if we drew a circle around Cowboys/Niners? The whole exchange of personalities and events... it was almost like one singular moment.
It is in my opinion, the greatest rivalry since the merger. Once we went beyond the field that's what really synched it. The cultural distinctions between the two cities and the evolution that they went over the main 25 year period (1970-1995)... it gave us this whole other rich backdrop.
The relationship that the football teams forged with each other kind of became like mile markers for the cities and the experiences that they were having. There was an antagonist within the other city and other team. The uniqueness, the epic nature of it, and again this notion of it being this enormous moment which is made up of singular moments enormous unto themselves is what drew us to it.
RJ: How do you begin to structure a story like this? With so many parallels to pop culture and political influence across multiple decades, what goes into building the story that you ultimately want to tell?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): In many cases what starts to emerge is that some of the intersections are obvious. Football sort of inspires something in the city that is completely off the field. You look at the context of what was going on around the football games here.
The Moscone/Milk assassinations... The notion that there was a Monday Night Football game played the same day as that, suddenly you look at that and you go, "Wow those two things are married in history." In looking at the broadcast of the game you see the prism of people.
The Howard Cosell Open, the empty stadium seats... they lost the game and that is in some sense a metaphor for the city. The game and the success or failure of the 49ers at that moment were such a reflection of the cultural history of the city at that point. They just fit together in terms of telling the story.
You look at the Cowboys... everything was going so well in Dallas in the 70s. Everyone knew Dallas and the economy situation from Dallas the tv show. It became this world-renowned television show that put a spotlight on the city and kind of spotlighted glamor, wealth, and fame. It was through this prism of pop culture and it started the same year as the "America's Team" nickname (1978).
You see this mirror and this metaphor and you start to track how the success of the team is relative to what's going on in the city. The spirit of what's going on in the city can be traced back to certain events whether they're political, cultural, or sports related.
Look at the Nike commercial with Deion Sanders for example. Jerry signs Deion and it's this huge news story because of the finances of football and how Jerry was able to make those moves. Then it becomes this huge national thing due to the Nike of it all. The cast of characters in the commercial (Deion, Jerry, Barry Switzer, Kevin Smith) are all in that commercial. There's a cultural ripple that goes all the way back to Dallas the tv show.
RJ: In "A Tale Of Two Cities" Lawrence Ross compares the Cowboys/49ers rivalry to that of the Lakers and Celtics. Was there any inspiration from that rivalry or any other across sports?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): We saw pieces of a litany of great sports rivalries reflected in this rivalry. Cowboys/49ers encompasses all of those pieces in one.
In sports you have geographical rivalries (Packers and Bears), rivalries that are individually based (John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors), rivalries of longevity (think Kobe and Father Time), and rivalries that are culturally based (Yankees and Red Sox).
In the NFL the Cowboys/49ers rivalry has all of those elements. You've got geographical, cultural, political... Dr. Harry Edwards said it best in the episode. It's an "ongoing intergenerational feud."
You even have personality rivalries. Guys like Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, even Jerry Jones and Eddie DeBartolo.
RJ: It seems that throughout all of their battles that the 49ers wore their classic red uniforms while the Cowboys wore their classic whites. As a producer/filmmaker, does a detail like that add anything to the story? I've always felt that it's added to the consistency of the rivalry in terms of what we're used to seeing visually.
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): Great observation! Haha.
It's a bit of a happy accident. There's a montage at the end where you see red and blue through the years. The players change but the colors stay the same. It adds this sense of contrast to it. Think about how in Civil War movies there's always a blue side and a gray.
I remember when I was a kid... I liked GI Joe. GI Joe always shot blue and the Cobra shot red, haha. In this rivalry it's always red and gold versus blue and silver.
There's a moment in the film that we actually uncovered through the process of interviewing Jerry Jones where he talks about his Norman Rockwell painting. That whole idea personifies the visual contrast present in the rivalry.
"I have a Norman Rockwell painting... it's called, "The Toss." It's his most famous football painting. And it has two football players there - one is named Jones. It's in blue and the other is in red. Every time I look at it I see the 49ers and I see the Dallas Cowboys." -Jerry Jones
It gives this visual continuity to it to where you could pick up any clip from any era and you would know immediately that the two sides are at odds.
RJ: Were there any specific players or coaches that you felt you had to get for the film? Obviously guys like Charles Haley and Deion Sanders played roles on both teams, was there anybody that was a must-have?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): Deion, Haley, and Ken Norton are certainly huge characters in this story.
The thing that's unique about all of these people is in building the framework... who were the people driving the story? When did they get there and when did they leave?
There's Eddie DeBartolo, there's Jerry Jones, there's Deion getting into the fray and then switching sides. There's Joe Montana getting hurt and Steve Young taking over. In terms of what we focused on we chose the players and coaches whose arrivals and departures catalyzed the rivalry the most.
For example, there's Roger Staubach in the 1972 Divisional Playoff Game. Staubach changed that game. That's a microcosm of one guy coming on the field and changing the course of the rivalry.
We saw that play out with individual games, whole seasons, whole eras in terms of the 90s. Things like that changed the direction of what the rivalry had been up until that point.
RJ: Is there anything that you took away from this project that you didn't know about this historic rivalry?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): In terms of the 90s... I was a kid watching football. I remember those games and events, but I have a greater appreciation now because I can see that it was more than the guys that I was watching as a kid.
These are historical and colorful characters. There haven't been many coaches since then like Jimmy Johnson. The same goes for Jerry Jones. Same for Eddie DeBartolo. Same for Barry Switzer.
I see it through the lens of time and distance... how incredibly both successful and colorful so many of these people were. You forget the notion of just how many incredible people were on the field at one time.
How many Hall of Famers were on the field for so many straight years against each other?
The Catch game itself... I would still see clips over the course of editing and just couldn't believe it. It's amazing how close it was to not even happening with where the ball was placed and how Montana barely gets it off.
RJ: Through putting "A Tale Of Two Cities" together, what would you say has been the most defining moment between the two teams?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): It's gotta be The Catch.
The drama of that game, the drama of that play, the build up of the Cowboys torturing the 49ers...
It's even the little things. The fact that Vin Scully was the play-by-play guy adds to the lore. The fact that Tom Brady is putting out photos from when he attended that game years later. 50 and 60-year old men are still debating whether Joe Montana was throwing it away. It's incredible both in and out of the lives of athletics.
You could do a whole film on just The Catch in terms of the conduct of the actual game and how many turnovers there were. When you go back and listen to the play-by-play of that drive... all the language is geared around it almost like a boxing match.
The Cowboys are on the cusp of going back and the 49ers are constantly the upstart. The notion of them being this team coming out of nowhere... it's fascinating to hear that there was a time when Joe Montana hadn't done it yet.
RJ: What sort of influence does Steve Sabol still have on NFL Films and its productions?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): Steve... a lot of people in our department had the good fortune to work directly for him and have him look at our work and comment on it. It is because of that that we received an education in looking for stories and identifying them and figuring out ways to unfold them.
We've talked a lot about characters today... that's because Steve tried to portray football as Hollywood portrayed fiction.
Because that was my education, I look for the characters, for the scene, for the conflict... that all comes from Steve Sabol.
Steve's fingerprints are more than on these films. They wouldn't exist without the passion that he had for documenting football as it was happening. So many things that we have... the B-roll of the Niners new facility that Jerry goes to visit with DeBartolo in the film, we could only do that because Steve's Army was out there capturing it.
So much of the footage that Steve captured lets us relive those games and bring them back to life. So many interviews that were done off of the field really helped to capture a guy like Bill Walsh... who was unknowingly making history at the time. Those moments only exist in our library because of Steve's passion for football.
A writer could study the Cowboys/49ers rivalry and write an incredible book, but because of what Steve captured we have all of this footage, sound, exteriors of stadiums and cities... those enable us to portray these cities off of the field and help us truly bring the story to life and allow us to share it with future generations.
Without Steve Sabol doing that, our films would not be what they are.
RJ: What would you say that you personally took away from this project? What are you most proud of?
Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): For me the greatest thrill of every project that I've ever worked on here is... so for example this story starts about these two teams.
The joy of it all and the fun of it is the team that you're on that's making it. The producers here, the producers in Los Angeles... everyone pitches in so much. That's the only way the film can be a success.
The privilege that I feel every day is to tell the stories of these other teams and other players with my team.
Something specific like that in terms of "A Tale Of Two Cities" is that we had dueling narrators. We liked the idea on paper and it was a challenge that I gave to the segment producers. At first it was a little bit uneasy... I didn't know how to give them specific direction.
The guys embraced the challenge and did it fearlessly in sort of writing a different style. Two guys and two voices... linking them into characters unto themselves gave each team in the film an individual feel.
"A Tale of Two Cities" is a 2-part, 2-hour long film. The first part originally aired on Tuesday, December 15th and the conclusion airs this Saturday after the Cowboys play the Jets on Saturday Night Football. Also featured in the film are Jeremy Renner and Sam Elliott narrating as representatives of each fan base in San Francisco and Dallas, respectively.
For many young fans of the two teams, this rivalry is the sort of thing heard debated and analyzed by our fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. It's almost fully disconnected from today's NFL. But thanks to men like Steve Sabol and the wonderful team at NFL Films, this rivalry has never been more vivid than it is in this series.
It has been said that Steve Sabol was the "keeper of the flame" in terms of NFL History. It's thanks to him, thanks to Sabol's Army, and thanks to the incredible producers like Paul Camarata that we can re-live different moments across the timeline of it. I cannot thank Paul enough for sharing his time, knowledge, and enthusiasm. This film is fantastic in every way and it is because of the effort that he and his team put into it.
Be sure to tune in tomorrow night after the game to NFL Network. See how the success of one team existed only in opposition to the other from 1972 - 1996, the passion these guys felt every time they suited up for battle, and the years-later commentary by the veterans who actually lived through this war, this tale of two cities.
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
The Dallas Cowboys uncharacteristically made several offseason trades this year and it has yet to be seen how or if these players can be impactful in 2018. One such trade was met with quite a bit of skepticism and actually angered a lot of Cowboys fans. Sending wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jihad Ward was somewhat puzzling, but it looks as if the trade might already be paying off.
Unfortunately, one of the Dallas Cowboys best defensive players will once again have to sit out of the first four games of the 2018 season while serving his suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. David Irving was expected to pick up where he left off last season as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but will have to wait until Week 5 to find out what he can do.
I don't know if the Dallas Cowboys suspected something like this would happen with Irving once again, but suddenly the trade for Jihad Ward is looking like a brilliant under the radar offseason move.
I know a lot of Cowboys fans were excited to see what Ryan Switzer could do for the offense this season, but the coaching staff never really had a plan in place for him or knew exactly how to use him. There is no question as to how the coaching staff will use Ward. He could end up being one of the better defensive lineman this season.
Jihad Ward has already caught the attention of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) and mandatory minicamp. Coincidentally, he's been playing in place of David Irving at the under tackle position or the three-technique. It's a role he may not relinquish heading into the 2018 season, and quite possibly even when Irving returns from his suspension.
I know it's a little bit early to anoint Jihad Ward, but the fact that as a new addition he's already starting ahead of the likes of Tyrone Crawford and other 3-tech candidates is pretty telling, at least for me.
Once training camp opens up there will be several things I will be paying close attention to, and how Jihad Ward performs will be one of them. He was after all highly thought of by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few years ago in the 2016 NFL Draft. Maybe that infatuation will pay off.
I know it still stings a little that Ryan Switzer is no longer with the Cowboys, but Jihad Ward could prove to be the more impactful player this season and beyond.
Do you think the Jihad Ward trade is already paying off for the Cowboys?
How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?
Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.
Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.
It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.
Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.
Safety Kavon Frazier
Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.
This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense. Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.
The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.
Safety Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana Tech. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.
The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.
Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.
Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.
Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.
There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).
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Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.
Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.
With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.
No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving
For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.
On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.
However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving.
First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.
We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.
For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.
Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear. In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.
Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.
The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.
However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.
Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.
We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.
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