IRVING, Texas (AP) – With their five Super Bowl trophies and the “America’s Team” label they treat like a birthright, it’s easy to forget the Dallas Cowboys were once nothing more than wannabes who kept getting turned away by Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.

To call their early meetings a rivalry wouldn’t be fair to the Packers. They were the kings of the NFL and Tom Landry’s Cowboys were just another team aiming for the crown.

Drama arrived in 1967 with championship games played on the very first day of the year and the very, very frigid finale. Both games were decided by one play in the final half-minute. Green Bay came through both times, then went on to beat the AFL champions in the first two Super Bowls.

“So the Cowboys were only two plays away from it being the Landry Trophy instead of the Lombardi Trophy,” said Herb Adderley, a Hall of Fame defensive back on those Packers teams who later played in two Super Bowls for the Cowboys.

Yeah, that’s enough to call it a rivalry. Especially when you add in what happened in the 1990s, when Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin led Dallas to three Landry, er, Lombardi Trophies, repeatedly denying Green Bay’s Brett Favre and crew a chance to reclaim their franchise’s glory.

“Payback time is what I called it,” Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly said, laughing.

The Dallas-Green Bay rivalry moves into a third generation Thursday night, when Favre and the 10-1 Packers visit Texas Stadium to face Tony Romo and the 10-1 Cowboys.

The winner moves a game up in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs and gets the tiebreaker, making it a two-game lead with four to play. What it really means is that this game could determine whether the NFC championship – which could be yet another high-stakes Dallas-Green Bay game – is played at Texas Stadium or Lambeau Field.

“It’s certainly the most significant game at this stadium since the last time we played Green Bay and Brett Favre in the (1995) NFC championship game,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

Favre is 0-8 at Texas Stadium, having lost every regular season and postseason matchup from 1993-95, then again in ’96, when the Packers were headed to their first Super Bowl title since the late ’60s. He lost one more in ’99 and hasn’t been back since.

“Troy and I talk about that every time he does one of our games,” Favre said. “Most of the times we lost down there it was in the playoffs. Good thing was, they went on to win the Super Bowl in all those. We hope that that’s different this year. I know they’re playing as well as they were back then.”

Romo is a big reason for Dallas’ latest success, and his story adds to the intrigue of this matchup.

A Wisconsin native, he grew up during Favre’s prime. No matter how much Romo has denied this week that he patterned himself after Favre – “Honestly, I was a basketball fan,” he said – just watch them for a few series Thursday night and decide for yourself.

(Well, you can watch if you have NFL Network. But that’s another story.)

Romo may have given his allegiance away last year when he did his Favre imitation for NBC. It was way too good for someone who claims to be a casual observer.

“Anybody that can get the Brett Favre walk down like he can (has) spent a lot of time watching him, studying up,” tight end Jason Witten said.

During his youth in Packerland, Romo probably learned all about the history of the Dallas-Green Bay series. It goes something like this:

Lombardi and Landry had been assistant coaches together on the New York Giants, each leaving to run these teams. The Packers won the first three meetings, but the margin was whittled down each time. They also played every preseason, so Green Bay knew Dallas was an up-and-coming club when they met at the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1967, with the NFL title on the line.

“All of us who were privileged to work for coach Lombardi, or play for coach Lombardi, had an immense respect for coach Landry, because we saw early how much respect coach Lombardi had for coach Landry,” Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr said. “We knew going in what a great team we were facing, and they were.”

Green Bay led 14-0 before Dallas quarterback Don Meredith hit the field, but it was tied at the end of one quarter. With 28 seconds left, the Packers led 34-27, but Meredith had the Cowboys inside the 1. Instead of a tying touchdown, he threw an interception in the end zone.

“The first year, we probably had too much respect and awe for Green Bay,” Lilly said. “The second year, we felt like we were a better team. But by the end of the game, we were hoping to get away alive.”

That’s what it was like playing in the Ice Bowl.

The wind chill at kickoff was an unbelievable minus-48, leaving stories of frostbite that guys still felt today.

“Every time I get cold I start to shiver, and the first thing I think of is the Ice Bowl. It was just a bad experience,” Adderley said.

The Packers probably don’t hurt as much because they won 21-17 on a 1-yard sneak by Starr with 13 seconds left. It was supposed to be a handoff, but he decided to keep it himself because he feared a running back might slip on the frozen field.

Had Starr not scored, the clock would have run out.

“The ground was as hard as this desktop I’m touching right now,” Starr said. “The scoreboard was casting a shadow on the field for much of the game, making it even harder.”

Adderley discovered just how deep those near-misses hurt when he was traded to the Cowboys two years later.

“Right on the bulletin board in the locker room it said, “The Packers owe us blood, sweat, tears and money,”‘ Adderley recalled. “It was a genuine hatred for the Packers. … I used to wear my Green Bay championship rings and that upset people in Dallas, so I stopped. They never wanted to hear about the Packers or Lombardi. Never.”

As the times and the teams have changed, so have the emotions.

Jerry Kramer, who threw the game-winning block in the Ice Bowl, said there’s now a mutual admiration society among the old guys.

“I’m excited about the rivalry,” Kramer said, “but I’m probably more excited that we got a football team again.”

AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins in Wisconsin contributed.

AP-ES-11-28-07 1756EST

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