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Dallas' Sanders Makes a Triumphant Return

PRO FOOTBALL / WEEK 7

Pro football: After suffering a concussion, he goes back into game and scores on a 70-yard punt return in Cowboys' win over Redskins.

October 25, 1999|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DALLAS — Deion has left the building.

OK, so the game's greatest showman has only left the field, but the fun's gone, the Cowboys doomed.

He is sitting in the Cowboys' locker room, his helmet and shoulder pads removed, wondering where he is after suffering a first-quarter concussion against the explosive Washington Redskins.

The team announces that he is finished for the day, and he's left behind as players and coaches return to the field for the third quarter.

A few minutes later, however, it's time to twist and shout, the king has returned, the locals coming to their feet as Deion Sanders comes running down the tunnel in full gear straight to his defensive position to demoralize the Redskins.

"I knew the doctors weren't going to let me go out there," said Sanders, acknowledging he was still a little woozy, "so I waited and then just ran out there."

Say good night, Washington.

Sanders' 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter not only rocked the Redskins (4-2), but secured the NFC East Division tie-breaking advantage for the Cowboys (4-2) with a 38-20 victory and sweep of the team's two-game series with Washington.

New Redskin owner Dan Snyder, known mostly so far for firing more than 20 front-office employees, was so upset with the defeat that he closed the training room to the trainers and the team's injured players and met with Coach Norv Turner for 40 minutes after the game.

Turner, setting an NFL record for keeping the media waiting after a game, reported to the podium almost an hour later--but still employed.

"We talked about how we as an organization should respond when we play a game like this," said Turner, which means someone will probably get fired today, which doesn't bode well for punter Brian Hansen, who kicked low and directly down the middle of the field to Sanders.

The Cowboys were leading, 31-20, when Hansen kicked, but along with the Rams, the Redskins have one of the league's most potent offenses, and there were more than nine minutes to rally.

Putting the ball in play anywhere near Sanders, however, is asking to see yourself embarrassed on SportsCenter time and time again. After Sanders accepted the punt, he received help with an illegal block to the back of Washington defender Mike Sellers--it was not called, the officials as mesmerized with Sanders as anyone else--and he was gone.

"Three more for the Rolexes," said Sanders, explaining that he has promised his teammates each a Rolex watch if he returns four kicks for touchdowns this season.

Sanders, who already has the NFL record for touchdown returns with 18, eight by interception, one off a fumble, three on kickoff returns and now six off punts, had unbelievably been challenged earlier in the week by Redskin receiver Albert Connell.

"Deion can't cover me," Connell said, and once someone told Sanders who Connell was, he got a little perturbed.

And in case he needed a reminder, team officials decorated their meeting rooms with Connell's provocative proclamation.

"When you call me out and say you can handle me one on one, well, you really don't want that scenario," said Sanders, who had only four of 89 passes thrown his way before playing the Redskins.

"It ain't no fun when the rabbit has a gun. I know a lot of guys want to make a name for themselves off of me because I'm a big-game player and a big hunter, but I got the gun also. You need to have respect. . . ."

Sanders said he made a point of approaching veteran receiver Irving Fryar before the game to have him pass that message on.

"I told Rev. Fryar, 'Please excuse me for what I am about to do,' " Sanders said. "I was going to crank it up a little bit."

Sanders was so excited he made a tackle--the first of the game. As soon as the Redskins handed the ball to Stephen Davis, Sanders broke behind the line of scrimmage and dropped him for a four-yard loss.

"I'm not supposed to be able to tackle, that's what you all say," Sanders said. "But I had to give you a little taste and let you know I can do that. If I want to."

He can do most anything he wants to on the field, this year offering the league a break by not playing offense yet. But put him in the defensive backfield, and he takes away half the field.

That's what made his departure so significant in the first quarter after fielding a punt and getting smashed in the head by Dan Turk, a 290-pound center for the Redskins.

"That was a stupid spin move I made and you never spin in the middle of the field," Sanders said. "I didn't know where I was. I had to ask someone what locker room we had just come out of.

"I don't remember anything except for Jerry Jones coming to the locker room at halftime. I said, 'You're the guy who signs my checks,' " Sanders said with a big grin, as good at putting everyone on as he is in taking over a game. "I remembered him, but nobody else."

After Sanders left the game in the first quarter, the Redskins reacted as if they didn't notice, failing immediately to attack his side of the field.

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