Cowboys-Packers through the years: 5 of rivalry’s greatest games

They have played in some of the most iconic games in NFL history, in some of the most historic buildings, with some of the greatest players to ever play the game. It rarely matters if it’s for a championship or just another game in the regular season. There’s just always something special when the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys face off.

Those two storied franchises will renew their historic rivalry on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. ET on FOX when the 6-2 Cowboys travel to Lambeau Field to face the 3-6 Packers. It will be a homecoming for Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who spent 13 years in Green Bay building a 125-77-2 record and leading them to a win in Super Bowl XLV.

That alone could make this a memorable game. But it would be just one of many in their long, storied history.

Here’s a look at some of the best games the Cowboys and Packers have ever played:

1966 NFL Championship Game

Jan. 1, 1967 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX

The Packers were the NFL’s powerhouse team back then, and the Cowboys were still a long way from becoming “America’s Team”. The Cowboys (10-3-1) were young, with only one player over 30, and appearing in their first-ever playoff game. The Packers (12-2) had just finished their eighth straight winning season under Vince Lombardi, and they were the defending champs.

They were also heavily favored to win the first NFL title since the AFL-NFL merger and gain the coveted berth in Super Bowl I.

So no one was surprised when the Packers scored on their first drive, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and returned it for another touchdown for a quick, 14-0 lead. The bigger surprise was that Tom Landry’s young upstarts hung around, tying the game before the fourth quarter was over.

It was back and forth all game long. Packers quarterback Bart Starr threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith threw for 238 yards and a touchdown and Don Perkins ran for 108 yards. But when Starr hit Max McGee for a 28-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Packers had a commanding, 34-20 lead with just 5:20 to play. 

But Dallas wasn’t done. On a 3rd-and-20, Meredith connected with tight end Frank Clarke on a 68-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to just a touchdown. And after the Dallas defense stopped the Packers on the ensuing drive, the Cowboys had the ball back near midfield with 2:19 to go. And a huge pass-interference call on Packers safety Tom Brown got the Cowboys all the way down to the Green Bay 1.

But the Packers defense held, with Brown redeeming himself by picking off Meredith in the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 2. The Packers held on to win the NFL title 34-27.

“We had our chance down there and muffed it,” Landry said after the game. “It was just one of those things.”

1967 NFL Championship game (“The Ice Bowl”)

Dec. 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI

The rematch of the 1966 NFL championship game would have been thrilling enough, but the conditions are what made this game an instant classic. The kickoff temperature was minus-13 degrees. It would drop to minus-18 as the game went on. It was so cold that when referee Norm Shacther blew into his metal whistle to signal the start of the game, it froze to his lips.

The wind chill made everything even worse. To those in the stadium, it felt more like minus-48.

And the players simply weren’t prepared for it. Cowboys coach Tom Landry even refused to let any players who might touch the football wear gloves. Years later, many of them claimed the frostbite from that day had left them with tingling sensations in their fingers. It was also hard to run on a field that was frozen. And in the icy cold, every hit felt 10 times worse.

That made the performance of Packers quarterback Bart Starr that day even more remarkable. He was sacked eight times by the fierce Dallas defense, yet he still completed 14 of 24 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns — both of which came in the first half as the Packers again built a 14-0 lead.

The Cowboys, though, stormed back and took the lead when running back Dan Reeves ran a sweep, pulled up and hit receiver Lance Retzel with an option pass for a 50-yard touchdown. When the Packers got the ball back, trailing 17-14 with 4:50 remaining with 68 yards of ice between them and the end zone, the situation seemed bleak.

But Starr drove them down the field to the Cowboys’ 1-yard line with 16 seconds remaining in the game, and then plowed into the end zone on a quarterback sneak to give Green Bay a 21-17 win and a berth in Super Bowl II.

“For years when it got cold my hands would hurt so bad,” Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly recalled years later. “We were thankful that we got out of there alive.”

1995 NFC Championship game

Jan. 14, 1996 at Texas Stadium in Irving, TX

The Cowboys had moved on from head coach Jimmy Johnson, and after two straight Super Bowl titles they were knocked off by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship the year before. In other words, it looked like their dynasty was ending. They looked like they were ready to pass the baton as the NFL’s best team, and the Packers hoped to take that baton.

The Packers were definitely on the verge of something. Quarterback Brett Favre was about to win the first of his three straight NFL MVP awards. They had just knocked the defending-champion 49ers out of the playoffs the week before. And now up were the Cowboys, who had knocked the Packers out of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

It took a wild, classic game for them to do it again.

One of the most entertaining NFC championships ever, the game featured six lead changes. The Packers had to climb out of an early 14-3 deficit. And on the strength of 307 passing yards and three touchdowns from Favre, the Packers even led 27-24 heading into the fourth quarter.

But the Cowboys rallied back with two fourth-quarter touchdowns from running back Emmitt Smith, who ran for 150 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The second, game-winning TD came two plays after Favre threw his second interception of the game.

Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith breaks through the Green Bay Packers defensive line during the NFC Championship Game in Irving, TX. Photo by CHRIS WILKINS/AFP via Getty Images

Favre actually got the ball back one more time with 2:36 remaining, but he couldn’t get out of his own territory. Ultimately, the Packers just didn’t have enough to hold off the Cowboys’ famed Triplets — QB Troy Aikman (21 of 33, 255 yards, 2 TDs), WR Michael Irvin (7 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs) and Smith. 

The Cowboys, in their second season with Barry Switzer as head coach, went on to beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX — their third championship in a span of four seasons. The Packers, though, used this loss as fuel and went on to win the Super Bowl the next year. 

2014 NFC Divisional Playoffs

Jan. 11, 2015 at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI

Was it a catch?

That is forever how this game will be remembered; Dez Bryant either caught it or he didn’t. It would become one of the most infamous plays in NFL history when Bryant, with the Cowboys trailing 26-21 and less than five minutes remaining, made a leaping catch at the 5-yard line on a 4th-and-2 from the Packers 32, and landed around the goal line.

To everyone watching in the stadium or at home, it looked like a tremendous catch.

But a review eventually ruled that it actually wasn’t.

It was a wild game even before that moment. The Packers got a brilliant performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. That included a 46-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Davante Adams late in the third quarter and a 13-yarder to Richard Rodgers that put the Packers up 26-21 with 9:10 left in the game.

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (15 of 19, 191 yards, 2 TDs) went right to work, moving Dallas quickly into Green Bay territory. But he faced a 4th-and-2 from the 32 with 4:42 to play.

And instead of going for the quick first down, the Cowboys went for it all, sending Bryant down the left sidelines. The pass was perfect, allowing Bryant to leap over his coverage, grab the ball and land right around the goal line.

But after Bryant came down with the ball and took a couple of steps, he reached out for the goal line as he fell with the ball in his left hand. When he hit, the ground jarred the ball loose, though it popped right up and Bryant caught it again. The Packers challenged the call, and after a lengthy review, the referees overruled themselves, saying it was not a catch because Bryant “did not maintain possession” before he hit the ground.

That was the end for the Cowboys. They turned the ball over on downs, and the Packers then ran out the clock on offense and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

“Come on man, I think it was a catch,” Bryant said after the game. “They took it away.”

Not that it helped Bryant or the Cowboys, but after several years of debating that play and trying to determine the definition of a catch, the NFL actually changed the catch rule three years later. Bryant’s reception would have stoof if the new rules had been in place.

2016 NFC Divisional Playoffs

Jan. 15, 2017 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX

For the first 22 ½ minutes of this game, it wasn’t much of a game. After that?

It was bedlam.

After the Packers jumped out to an early 21-3 lead, the Cowboys made it clear they wouldn’t go away quietly, especially in front of their home crowd. Dak Prescott was brilliant, completing 24-of-38 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. That included two touchdowns to Bryant, who had a brilliant 9 catches for 132 yards.

Two of Prescott’s touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter, which began with the Packers still holding a 28-13 lead. Prescott hit tight end Jason Witten with a 6-yarder and Bryant with a 7-yarder, and suddenly, with 4:08 remaining, the game was tied at 28-28.

That’s when it got really crazy.

The Packers needed two and a half minutes to move across midfield and get in position for a 56-yard field goal by Mason Crosby with 1:38 remaining, giving them a 31-28 lead. But the Cowboys answered right back, using up just 53 seconds to get inside Green Bay territory so Dan Bailey could nail a 52-yard field goal that re-tied the game.

But they left 35 seconds on the clock, which was more than enough for Aaron Rodgers — who completed 28-of-43 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns – to find a way. The big play came on a 3rd-and-20 from his own 32, when he rolled out of the pocket and found tight end Jared Cook down the sidelines for a 36-yard catch. And what a catch it was, with Cook just barely dragging his toes in bounds before his knees landed on the sidelines.

Jared Cook of the Green Bay Packers makes a catch against the Dallas Cowboys during the 2016 NFC Divisional Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It was just enough for a 51-yard field goal from Crosby as time expired, giving the Packers a wild, 34-31 win and sending them on to the NFC Championship Game. 

“Unbelievable effort,” Rodgers said. “I mean, what a game. What a game!”

Honorable mentions:

Week 13 of the 2007 season (Nov. 29, 2007) — This game would’ve been big enough, considering both teams were 10-1 at the time. But it became even more notable when Packers QB Brett Favre was injured in the second quarter, forcing a young Aaron Rodgers into the game. In his first extended look, Rodgers went 18 of 26 for 201 yards and a touchdown in front of a hostile crowd at Texas Stadium. But Tony Romo was even better, completing 19 of 30 for 309 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Cowboys to their sixth straight win, 37-27, as they clinched an early playoff berth.

Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys faced the Green Bay Packers on November 29, 2007. Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images

Thanksgiving Day, 1994 (Nov. 24, 1994)

Long before he coached the Cowboys, this was the big moment for Jason Garrett. He was the backup to quarterback Troy Aikman, who was injured and unable to play in this game. And to no one’s surprise, the Packers jumped out to an early 17-3 lead over Garrett and the Cowboys at Texas Stadium. They even still led 24-13 in the third quarter. But Garrett was brilliant, completing 15 of 26 for 311 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Cowboys to 26 unanswered points. That included a 35-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin late in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Garrett, in a shocker, beat Brett Favre, who was 27 of 40 for 257 yards and four touchdowns. But as brilliant as he was, he wouldn’t start again for the Cowboys for another four years.

Wide receiver Alvin Harper of the Dallas Cowboys heads to the end zone on a 45-yard touchdown reception against the Green Bay Packers in 1994. Photo by Joseph Patronite/Getty Images

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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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