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History of playoff rivalry between Cowboys and 49ers

Dallas and San Francisco have a rich playoff history.

Dwight Clark in Air During Game

The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys face off in the 2023 NFL Playoffs this Sunday in the NFC Divisional Round. The game wraps up the weekend with a 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

The 49ers head into the game as a 3.5-point favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook. San Francisco finished the regular season 13-4 and claimed the No. 2 seed. They beat the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 in the Wild Card Round. Dallas finished the regular season 12-5 and claimed the No. 5 seed. They beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-14 in the Wild Card Round.

Playoff history of Cowboys vs. 49ers

Total games played: 8
Record: Cowboys 5-3
First game: Cowboys won 17-10 in 1971 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco
Last game: 49ers won 23-17 in 2022 Wild Card Round game at Dallas

49ers vs. Cowboys is one of the biggest rivalries in NFL history. They’ve met 38 times prior to Sunday with Dallas holding a 19-18-1 edge in the all-time series and specifically a 5-3 lead in the playoffs. Six of the eight playoff meetings have taken place in the NFC Championship Game. Their third matchup was in the 1972 Divisional Round and their most recent matchup was in the Wild Card Round.

Biggest game in series history: 1982 NFC Championship Game

Coming into this game, the 49ers had never advanced past the NFC Championship Game and had never beaten the Cowboys in the playoffs. Dallas had eliminated them from the playoffs following the 1970, 1971, and 1972 seasons.

The 49ers were a young up-and-coming squad under Bill Walsh and had the best record in the NFL that season. This game featured seven lead changes and closed with the single most famous play of the rivalry. The 49ers opened their final drive at their 11-yard line with 4:54 to go. Joe Montana guided the team down the field until they reached the Cowboys 6-yard line and faced a 3rd and 4 with 58 seconds left in the game. Bill Walsh called “Change Left Slot – Sprint Right Option” and Joe Montana found Dwight Clark deep in the back of the end zone leaping above Everson Walls. The play called for a potential throwaway, but Clark was tall enough that he was able to leap up and grab it.

The game is remembered for The Catch, but the 49ers defense had to make two huge plays to stop the Cowboys from a potential game-winning field goal. Eric Wright made a touchdown saving

Cowboys fans will probably prefer one of the two 90s NFC Championship Game wins, but given that this qualified as the start of the 49ers dynasty after years of Cowboys domination, it feels like the most important. I’ll confess that I am a 49ers fan, so I am not an objective person in this analysis. But given how much it meant to the 49ers organization, this seems like the biggest game in the playoff history between these two.

Most important player in series history: Charles Haley

This is a tough question and you’ll get different answers from different Cowboys and 49ers fans. You could talk about Joe Montana and Dwight Clark. You could talk about Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. Deion Sanders made his way between both teams and had a major impact.

But we’re going with Hall of Fame pass rusher Charles Haley. The 49ers were the dominant team of the 80s, finishing off the decade with back-to-back Super Bowl victories following the 1988 and 1989 seasons. Haley was a key contributor on those teams and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1990. However, a variety of issues resulted in the 49ers trading him to the Cowboys shortly before the 1992 season, and it changed this rivalry in a big way.

Haley helped transform the Cowboys defense and Dallas proceeded to win back-to-back Super Bowls. In both of those seasons, the Cowboys beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers would win the final game in that three-year playoff trilogy, but Haley had turned around Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys.