- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2000

When Washington Redskins fans chanted "We want Dallas" before the playoffs last season, the Dallas Cowboys were wishing for the same first-round matchup.

"We wanted to come here and play them in the playoffs last year," cornerback Deion Sanders said. "That's how much we believed we could beat the Redskins. That's the truth."

The teams didn't meet in the postseason and Sanders now finds himself a Redskin after signing a $56 million deal on Monday. Players change teams often in the current era of free agency. Indeed, Sanders makes his fourth NFL stop in 12 seasons. But this is no ordinary crossover of allegiances. Sanders has tormented the Redskins. His 70-yard touchdown punt return last year in the Cowboys' 38-20 victory was a stake through the heart. "Prime Time" may now dance in burgundy-and-gold, but it's going to feel weird for Sanders and fans.

"This is something I never envisioned, being on the opposite sideline," he said. "But I always enjoyed the rides on the way from the hotel to the stadium. As we got closer we experienced true Redskins fans. I'm proud to have the opportunity to be a Washington Redskin.

"Rivalries are something for the fans. I have a rivalry every Sunday playing against the toughest receiver on that opposing team. Someone's out there to do me in."

The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry has long been one of the NFL's strongest. Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin threw a funeral wreath inside the Redskins locker room after Dallas' 35-34 victory for the 1979 NFC East title. Redskins coach George Allen once offered to fight Cowboys coach Tom Landry at midfield for the game's outcome. Cowboys fans sarcastically sang happy birthday to Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann during a Dallas victory.

"There will always be animosity between these two teams," said Cowboys Hall of Famer Lee Roy Jordan. "Especially when they're trying to take your title, your position, your money.

Countered former Redskins offensive tackle Jim Lachey: "If you grow up in metro Washington, you grow up a diehard Redskins fan. But if you hate your parents, you grow up a Cowboys fan."

Added former Redskins defensive end Charles Mann: "When you sign with Washington, you sign a contract to hate the Cowboys."

Now the Cowboys are badmouthing Sanders following his departure. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram headline on Sanders' signing was "Now a Redskin, Deion is enemy." Some Cowboys are worried Sanders will return to beat them after defeating the Redskins in the last five games between the two teams.

"It will be open season [on bulletin board quotes]," cornerback Darren Woodson said, jokingly. "It will be a little heated now. We're looking for seven [straight], maybe eight if we get them in the playoffs."

Said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer: "I talked to Deion [Monday night] and told him he didn't even know the hand signals when he played here so he won't be able to tell them anything."

Redskins coach Norv Turner understands the rivalry. Disgruntled fans still talk of shipping Turner back to the Cowboys where he was an offensive coordinator from 1991-93.

"It's easier to do it now," Turner said. "People accept it faster. If you play well, the adjustment is real fast."

Sanders downplayed acclimation problems. After all, he chose Washington thinking it would be a quieter place than the everyday "Team Turmoil" problems in Dallas.

"At this stage in my life I don't need controversy," Sanders said. "I don't entertain controversy. I don't condone 'mess.' To have gone into a messy situation wouldn't have been profitable."

Past and present Redskins believe Sanders will win over fans when making big plays.

"The fans are really supporting the burgundy and gold," cornerback Darrell Green said. "Sam Huff and Sonny Jurgensen came from other teams and they're most beloved, and it's because they performed."

Huff said his 1964 trade from the New York Giants brought little reaction, though the Hall of Fame linebacker was so bitter about his old team he convinced coaches to kick a late field goal in a 72-41 victory in 1966.

Jurgensen was booed in Philadelphia so the 1964 trade to Washington was a relief. Given the Redskins were woeful before Jurgensen's arrival, the Hall of Fame quarterback was given a hero's welcome and is now perhaps the team's most beloved player ever.

"Once Deion makes plays, the fans will support him," Jurgensen said. "If he doesn't, they'll voice their opinion."

Sanders may meet some locker room reluctance after last season when he hit receiver Albert Connell in the throat after the latter's pregame comments. Connell said he didn't fear the cornerback. It's uncertain whether Sanders can become a locker room, but he's not worried about becoming one.

"I'm going to play my game," Sanders said. "If that catapults me as one of the leaders I will play that role, but I'm not getting ready to come into this locker room to hold court."

The Redskins play the Cowboys on Sept. 18 at FedEx Field on a Monday night before a national TV audience. Certainly, it will be another climatic night.

"It's going to be an interesting year for them and us," Sanders said.

Only "them" is now the Cowboys and "us" is the Redskins.

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