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'A Tale Of Two Cities' shines light on an all-time rivalry

The first two episodes of NFL Network's Timeline series have focused on an iconic player's relationship with a community (Favre Returns) and a team's relationship with its region (Jersey Guys). This week's two-part special shines a light on a storied rivalry between two franchises and cities that couldn't be more different.

A Tale Of Two Cities tells the story of the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, two teams that had dominating runs that coincided in the early 80s and again in the early-to-mid 90s. Over two hours, Two Cities exhaustively details all the drama that defined the rivalry, from Deion to Haley to Montana to Ed "Too Tall" Jones (still one of the best nicknames in NFL history).

Special attention is given to the 1981 NFC Championship Game, better known as "The Catch" game. Credit to the Timeline team for taking an endlessly discussed piece of NFL history and offering new shades to the story.

For example: Timeline asks then answers the question why we never saw Joe Montana celebrating with Dwight Clark after the iconic go-ahead scoring pass. Turns out that typically mild-mannered Montana had a score to settle with Jones, getting in the defensive end's face and shouting, "Respect that, blankety blank!"

He did not actually say "blankety blank."

The second part of the film turns its attention to the 90s. The teams met three times in the NFC Championship Game between 1992 and 1995, in games that were considered by fans and media alike to be the real Super Bowl.

This documentary reminds how brash those Cowboys teams were. One particularly inspired example involved a boozy Jimmy Johnson calling a Dallas radio station on the week of the '93 NFC title game to guarantee a Dallas victory. Johnson's players would make him look smart with a win the following Sunday.

"Yeah, Jimmy had had too many Heinekens that night I think," reminisced Troy Aikman.

This was great theater for two teams that account for 10 Super Bowl titles. The rivalry has gone dark in recent years, and A Tale of Two Cities will leave you hoping the spark reignites soon.

Extra points:

» This is the third of five Timeline episodes we'll recap for Around The NFL. Next Thursday will bring the premiere of The Merger, which documents the unprecedented, um, merger between the National Football League and American Football League in 1970.

» Joe Montana was the No. 33-rated player on the Cowboys' draft board in 1979, meaning they passed on drafting the Hall of Fame quarterback multiple times before he went to the Niners in the third round with the 82nd overall pick. The Cowboys had Roger Staubach and Danny White at the time, and were unaware Staubach would retire after the following season. Ouch.

» Eddie DeBartolo dropped perhaps the greatest owner heat in NFL history prior to The Catch game in 1981. Said DeBartolo of the Cowboys, who they'd already beaten in the regular season that year: "They ate it once, they can eat it again." Bill Walsh was not pleased.

» My goodness, the Barry Switzer introductory press conference in 1996 was positively bonkers. I'm not sure I would have let Coach drive home from the facility that day.

» DeBartolo said his decision to trade Charles Haley to the 49ers during the 1992 season was his greatest mistake as an owner. In 1991, Dallas had the 17th-ranked defense. By '92, they were No. 1 with Haley driving Steve Young into the turf on an annual basis.

» Can't say I loved the dualing narration from Sam Elliott (Texas guy) and Jeremy Renner (San Fran guy). Also, somebody should tell Renner that his city shouldn't be proud to claim Starship, the notorious 80s corporate schlock-rockers, as their own. I mean ... come on.

» Speaking of celebrities, I can't say I have a ravenous appetite for Rob Schneider's oeuvre, but the famous Sandler buddy and legit Niners fan came off as genuinely likable as he reminisced about watching "The Catch" game with his father. "Makin' copies!"

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