- Jeff Miller
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Faded jeans are great. They have a terrific feel. Faded rivalries, not so much. They serve as melancholy reminders of what was but is no more. Here are five rivalries that evoke heavy sighs:
Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers:
What happened to The Catch? To Put it in three-inch headlines! We'll win the game! from Jimmy Johnson? The teams have met to determine the NFC's rep to the Super Bowl five times, including three consecutive marquee meetings in the 1990s. But there's little to show for the past 15 years. OK, so T.O. was preening himself on the Texas Stadium star as a Niner in 2000 and getting his compass reset by George Teague. But in the six games played since the teams' last NFC Championship Game date, Vegas has posted at least a six-point favorite four times.
Pittsburgh Steelers-Oakland Raiders:
Thank goodness the old-guard NFL was eager to toss the woebegone Steelers into the new AFC in the 1970 merger. Steelers-Raiders became "That '70s Show" for pro football. The Immaculate Reception of 1972 began a streak of five consecutive playoff meetings, the last three in AFC Championship Games that produced Super Bowl winners.
The teams' most recent postseason meeting was 25 years ago, when the Raiders were on their sabbatical in L.A. It has been six seasons since both have qualified for the playoffs, and we know that the blame for what has happened since then falls squarely on the Raiders' five consecutive seasons of double-digit defeats.
New York Jets-Miami Dolphins:
This primarily has been a series of dominating spurts, but the stakes often have been high and some images have been unforgettable. Such as A.J. Duhe's making himself at home in the Jets' muddy backfield, not to mention their mucky end zone, in the 1982 AFC Championship Game. Or Dan Marino's fake spike in 1994 with the division lead on the line. Or The Miracle of the Meadowlands (Jumbo, go deep!) during an off night of the Yankees-Mets Subway Series in 2000.
One of the two has occupied the division basement the past five years, and they now pick up each other's released quarterbacks and kickers. Nostalgia amounts to seeing the infield at Dolphin Stadium and recalling when the teams played on the infield at Shea Stadium.
Detroit Lions-Thanksgiving Day opponents:
Home-field advantage? The Lions are 33-33-2 when playing at home on Thanksgiving. The tradition was born in 1934 out of financial desperation. The first-year team drew attendance so poorly despite its 10-0 record that a home game against the undefeated Bears was moved to T-Day. The good news -- attendance more than doubled, to 26,000. The bad news -- the Lions lost that game and their last two to miss the playoffs.
Until the late '60s, the Detroit game was the featured holiday offering, but it has become just an hors d'oeuvre to the Cowboys' game in terms of excitement and relevance. And now the NFL Network game is butting in, too. The Lions have lost six of their past seven Thanksgiving games and haven't even been favored in eight years. It might help if Phil Luckett were to ref more of them.
Buffalo Bills-New England Patriots:
These teams met in the first official American Football League competition in 1960, an exhibition game that drew 100,000 to a pregame parade down Buffalo's Main Street and 16,474 to the actual game at War Memorial Stadium. The Bills built an AFL power under Lou Saban, who was dumped by the Boston Patriots only five games into 1961. The teams finished 1-2 in the division three times in the '60s but have done so only once since.
The Belichick era, no bargain for any Patriots foe, has been particularly agonizing for the Bills. After splitting a pair of overtime games in 2000, New England has dominated with the exception of the Bills' 31-0 Week 1 win in 2003. Ah, but the Web site BuffaloBillsTalk.com proclaims "the new rivalry begins" and that the teams' meeting in Week 17 at Buffalo will decide this season's division winner.
Jeff Miller is a Dallas-based freelance writer. He is author of "Going Long: The Wild Ten-Year Saga of the Renegade American Football League in the Words of Those Who Lived It."
These five rivalries used to grip legions of NFL fans. Now they evoke heavy sighs.