There has been a rivalry between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston since the first oil derricks rose in Texas.
And that rivalry has often played out between the cities’ sports teams — on football fields, basketball courts, and to some degree, baseball diamonds.
But until today, the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros have played for little more than bragging rights and the Silver Boot trophy. When the Astros were moved from the National League to the American League West in 2013, the one positive spin for flustered Astros fans was the thought of meaningful games against their pseudo rivals from up north.
That happens for the first time, in earnest, beginning tonight at Globe Life Park. It’s real now. The Rangers and Astros are playing for their postseason lives.
With their showdown in mind, here’s a look back at eight seminal sports moments in the rivalry between the cities:
8. Mavericks pummel Rockets in Game 7, April 2005
The Rockets were up 2-0 after winning both games in Dallas to start the first round series. The Mavericks responded by taking two in Houston. After both teams held serve at home in Games 5 and 6, the Mavericks rolled to a 116-76 win in Game 7 at Reunion Arena to advance to the second round. They led by 15 at the half and continued to pile one. Jason Terry led with 31 points as every Mavs player scored in the game. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady combined to score 60 of Houston’s 76 points.
7. Expansion Texans top Cowboys in franchise opener, September 8, 2002
It was the first game for the Houston Texans. A prime time season-opener against the Cowboys at the brand new Reliant Stadium. The Texans won 19-10, becoming the second expansion team to win its opener. Dallas finished 5-11, the Texans 4-12. But for one night, Houston ruled Dallas.
6. SMU shocks Phi Slama Jama, Jan. 16, 1982
SMU was not a strong basketball program in 1982. The Houston Cougars, with future NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, were headed to the first of three consecutive Final Four appearances and were dubbed Phi Slama Jama by Houston Post sports writer Thomas Bonk in 1983. The Mustangs, however, beat the Cougars 67-66 at Hofheinz Pavilion for their lone Southwest Conference win of the season. SMU finished 1-15 and 6-21 overall under David Bliss. Houston escaped with a two-point win a couple weeks later at SMU and finished 25-8 overall, 11-5 in the SWC and lost to North Carolina in the national semifinals.
5. Mavericks ground Rockets, April-May 1988
The Rockets were two seasons removed from an NBA Finals appearance. The Mavericks were enjoying their best season, their eighth in the league, after going 53-29 in the regular season. After splitting the first two games in Dallas, Mark Aguirre, Sam Perkins, Roy Tarpley and Rolando Blackman were too much for the Olajuwon-led Rockets. Aguirre was 13 of 21 from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range to lead the Mavs with 38 points in the Game 4 series-clinching win at the Summit. Dallas reached its first Western Conference Finals but lost to the eventual NBA champion Lakers in seven.
4. Oilers escape Cowboys in OT, Nov. 10, 1991
The Oilers were in the middle of a string of seven consecutive playoff seasons. The Cowboys were on the verge of their 1990s dynasty. After spotting Dallas a 10-0 first quarter lead, the Oilers tied it on a one-yard touchdown run by Allen Pinkett. Troy Aikman’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin tied it at 23-23 late in the fourth quarter. In overtime, Al Del Greco’s 23-yard field goal finally gave Houston a 26-23 win. Warren Moon completed 41 of 56 passes for 432 yards, Aikman was 24 of 39 for 260 yards. But it came down to kicking as Del Greco combined with the Cowboys’ Ken Willis on seven in the game.
3. Nolan Ryan comes and goes, 1988-2014
Nolan Ryan signed with the Texas Rangers after the 1988 season after a contract dispute with Astros owner John McMullen, stunning Astros fans who had welcomed the hometown legend in 1980. Ryan quickly proved his career was far from over, throwing two no-hitters and surpassing 5,000 strikeouts during his five-year career with the Rangers. Ryan was named president of the Rangers in February 2008 and partnered with Chuck Greenberg to place the winning bid to buy the franchise from owner Tom Hicks. CEO was added to Ryan’s title after Greenberg left the club in March 2011. Ryan eventually stepped down in October 2013 after general manager Jon Daniels was given the title president of baseball operations. In February 2014, Ryan was named a special assistant to Astros owner Jim Crane.
2. Texans clip Oilers in double OT for AFL title, Dec. 23, 1962
The Oilers were in their third consecutive American Football League title game after winning the first two. The Dallas Texans, led by coach Hank Stram and quarterback Len Dawson, were in the championship for the first time. Both teams were 11-3 and beat the other on the road. George Blanda, Charlie Tolar and Billy Cannon led the Oilers in front of 37,981 at Jeppesen Stadium. Dallas led 17-0 at the half but Houston rallied to force overtime. After a scoreless overtime period, rookie kicker Tommy Booker nailed a 25-yard field goal early in the second OT to win the title for Dallas. It was the last game for the Dallas Texans, who became the Kansas City Chiefs the following season.
1. Campbell’s Oilers beat Dorsett’s Cowboys on Thanksgiving, Nov. 21, 1979
The Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Oilers were among the best teams in the NFL when they met at Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day 1979. The Cowboys were coming off a Super Bowl loss and the Oilers were coming off an AFC Championship loss — both to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Big plays opened the showdown with a bang. Drew Pearson’s 56-yard touchdown catch from Roger Staubach gave Dallas a 7-0 lead. Earl Campbell’s 61-yard touchdown on the ensuing possession tied it at 7-7. Campbell (above right, with the Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett) later added a 27-yard scoring run and finished with 195 yards. Dorsett had 54 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Staubach completed 21 of 30 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions, including one late that iced the game for the Oilers. Houston quarterback Dan Pastorini only completed 9 of 17 passes for 163 yards but had touchdown passes of 47 yards to Mike Renfro and 32 yards to Kenny Burrough, the second coming in the fourth quarter to put the Oilers up for good, 30-24. After the game, Oilers coach Bum Phillips quipped, “The Dallas Cowboys may be America’s team, but the Houston Oilers are Texas’ team.”
Dallas lost to the Los Angeles Rams 21-19 in the divisional playoff later that year, Staubach’s last game. The Oilers advanced to the AFC Championship for the second consecutive season but lost to the Steelers again, 27-13. Sure, there wasn’t an official title on the line, but on one day, for one game, no other moment captured the rivalry between the two regions more than this. It was the All-Texas Super Bowl we never got when both teams were good enough to contend. But it was only good for bragging rights.
There’s a real trophy on the line beginning tonight in Arlington. And, yeah, a Texas-sized helping of bragging rights.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760