The 49ers–Cowboys rivalry is a National Football League (NFL) rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers lead the series 20–19–1. It is one of the great inter-division rivalry games in the NFL. The two teams do not play every year; instead, they play once every three years due to the NFL's rotating division schedules, or if the two teams finish in the same place in their respective divisions, they would play the ensuing season. Sports Illustrated ranked it as the eighth best rivalry while the NFL Top 10 ranked this rivalry to be the tenth best in the NFL. In 2020, CBS ranked it as the No. 1 NFL rivalry of the 1990s. The rivalry was also the subject of two 2015 episodes of NFL Network's The Timeline entitled "A Tale of Two Cities" with actors Sam Elliott (Cowboys) and Jeremy Renner (49ers) as narrators.
The Cowboys and 49ers have faced each other in the postseason nine times, the most between any two NFL teams. The rivalry between the Cowboys and 49ers started gaining traction in the 1970s. The Cowboys defeated the 49ers in the 1970 and 1971 NFC Championship games, and again in the 1972 Divisional Playoff Game. The 1981 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco, which saw the 49ers' Joe Montana complete a game-winning pass to Dwight Clark in the final minute (now known as The Catch) is one of the most famous games in NFL history.
The rivalry became even more intense from 1992 to 1994 when the two teams faced each other in the NFC Championship Game during all three seasons. Dallas won the first two match-ups while San Francisco won the third, and in each of these pivotal match-ups, the game's victor went on to win the Super Bowl. With the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl following the 1995 season, from 1992 to 1995, either the Cowboys or the 49ers were Super Bowl champions, giving both teams five each – which, at the time, was tied for the most by any NFL team (currently, both teams are tied for third behind the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots with six each).
The rivalry went cold for many years due to the two teams’ inability to make the postseason in the same year after 1998 and until 2021, when both teams made the playoffs and were matched against each other in the Wild Card Round in Dallas. The 49ers won that game 23–17. The two teams would meet each other in the 2022 playoff divisional round, which saw the 49ers take a 19–12 win.
NFC Divisional playoffs. First meeting at Candlestick Park. With Roger Staubach (who had been injured for much of the season) coming off the bench to replace an ineffective Craig Morton; Cowboys overcome 21–3 deficit and a 28–13 deficit in the fourth quarter to win. Last 49ers post-season game until 1981.
NFC Championship Game. First postseason win for the 49ers over the Cowboys. Wide receiver Dwight Clark makes a leaping catch in the back of the end zone on a pass from Joe Montana with 51 seconds left, best referred to as "The Catch". 49ers win Super Bowl XVI.
Second straight NFC Championship Game meeting. Cowboys win Super Bowl XXVIII. Troy Aikman was knocked out of the game with a concussion after the knee of rookie 49er defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield struck his head.
Last start in the series for Troy Aikman. This game was remembered for 49ers wide receiver (and future Cowboy) Terrell Owens spiking the ball on the Cowboys star at midfield following a touchdown and subsequently being hit by Cowboys safety George Teague.