NFL

Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers: The great rivalry

Kyle Shanahan's NFL life has now come full circle and the young coach can't hide his excitement ahead of Sunday's battle between the Cowboys and the 49ers.

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Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers: The great rivalry
Katelyn Mulcahy AFP

The Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers rivalry has been ranked as the eighth best rivalry by Sports Illustrated. The NFL rivalry was also the subject of two 2015 episodes of NFL Network's The Timeline entitled "A Tale of Two Cities" with actors Sam Elliott (Cowboys) and Jeremy Renner (49ers) as the narrators. Many fans of the teams may opt for another viewing of the show ahead of this Sunday's clash.

Heated rivalry

The rivalry between the Cowboys and 49ers has been going since the 1970s, including seven postseason games. The Cowboys beat the 49ers in the 1970 and 1971 NFC Championship games, and also in the 1972 Divisional Playoff Game. From 1992 to 1994, the rivalry became even more heated, when the two teams faced each other in the NFC Championship Game during all three seasons. The Cowboys won the first two match-ups, with the 49ers taking the third. For many years, the rivalry struggled due to the two teams’ inability to make the postseason in the same year.

Cowboys-49ers epic rivalry huge part of Shanahan's life

Kyle Shanahan was named the 20th head coach of the San Francisco 49ers on 6 February 2017. Shanahan then signed a multi-year contract extension with the 49ers on 15 June 2020.

The 42-year-old head coach had just turned 15 years old when the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game on 15 January 1995. Shanahan's father, Mike, served as the 49ers' offensive coordinator and his success that season led to him being named the Denver Broncos coach before the 1995 season. Shanahan senior was the head coach of Washington from 2010-13, where he accumulated an overall win total of 178 victories (eight postseason), including victories in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.

Postseason clash

Sunday will be the first time the two teams meet in the postseason since the 49ers won the NFC Championship, 38-28, following the 1994 season. That victory interrupted the Cowboys reign as Dallas was winning three out of four Super Bowls. Dallas has won the last three meetings between the two teams.

Shanahan's football life has now come full circle and the young coach can't hide his excitement ahead of Sunday's battle at Jerry World.

"Oh, I think that's as cool as it gets," Shanahan told NBC. "That's the coolest part of my childhood growing up I feel like. My senior year in high school, my dad was with the Broncos and they were able to beat the Packers in the Super Bowl, which was unbelievable. But before that, it was seventh grade, eigth grade, ninth grade - '92, '93, '94 - every single year I thought we were the best team in the league."

When asked if his players understand the gravity of this old rivalry, Shanahan didn't hesitate with his answer. "Not at all," Shanahan answered with a laugh. "I wish I could say yes, but I mean, some of these players were born in the 2000s. You would like to say so."

Sunday is also the first time the 49ers have been in the playoffs since losing a lead and suffering a defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

"Our guys know how big of a deal the playoffs are, and our guys are pumped for this game,no matter who we're playing," Shanahan said.

Shanahan named Coach of the Week

The 49ers defeated the Rams 27-24 on Sunday. Peter King, who writes a weekly column titled Football Morning in America for NBC Sports, was full of praise for the job Shanahan has done with his team. King gave Shanahan his weekly “Coach of the Week” award:

“Starting 3-5, knowing his job was shaky if he finished out of the playoffs for a fourth year out of five running the Niners. Having must-wins in Week 10 and Week 18 against the division champ Rams and winning both. Gutting out a crazy win at Cincinnati against the suddenly great Joe Burrow. Finish 10-7 in the toughest division in football, living to fight another day in the NFC playoffs. He’s not coach of the year, but damn, he’s coach of the something.” King said.

Will a victory on Wild Card weekend take one of these teams back to the Super Bowl? It remains to be seen, but if history is any indication, the Cowboys-49ers game on Sunday will prove crucial.