- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

Deion Sanders expects quite a reaction Sunday in his return to Dallas.
"The same one I have here," the Washington Redskins cornerback said yesterday, breaking into laughter.
Indeed, Sanders' romancing of the Washington faithful has gone less smoothly than planned. Six months after being released by the Cowboys and signing a seven-year, $56 million contract with the Redskins and three months after running onto FedEx Field to thunderous applause Prime Time still battles the boos.
Not that he hasn't made big plays. Sanders returned a punt 57 yards in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal. He has intercepted four passes, including a game-sealing one in the end zone at the Meadowlands. And he has silenced most opposing wide receivers while playing on the NFL's third-ranked pass defense.
But the $100 million Redskins are the league's new favorite team to hate. They have lost four of their past five games and stand on the brink of playoff elimination. And Sanders has not suffocated opposing receivers as he did in eight Pro Bowl seasons. So the boos come sometimes at FedEx Field, usually at opposing stadiums and certainly Sunday at Dallas.
"I guarantee they'll boo him," Redskins defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said. "Not because of him leaving but [because of] him coming to Washington. That's that love-hate relationship with the Redskins and the Dallas fans. Oh, they'll boo him. They'll try to boo him out of the stadium."
Sanders, for his part, is trying to play down his return to Dallas, where he played five seasons for the league's old favorite team to hate, went to four Pro Bowls and helped win Super Bowl XXX. He believes the hype should be squashed by the disappointing records of the Redskins (7-6) and Cowboys (4-9).
"There isn't [any personal excitement]," Sanders said. "I can't even lie to you. I don't think our records warrant the hype someone would normally have for a game against a former team. It isn't like that. It's a job. It's a job that we must go in there and overcome, and beat these guys the way they need to be beaten. The way they could be beaten. The way they know they can be beaten."
OK, so he's giving it a little juice. And it's likely that the hype despite Sanders' protestations will increase as the game draws near. Miller Lite, for example, is handing out 30,000 do-rags Sanders' signature accessory at Texas Stadium and has written a poem to commemorate the freebie. With apologies to Lord Byron:
Once upon a time he was a Cowboy and a defender on the field.
But now he wears maroon and gold, and is the Redskins' shield.
So come game time on Sunday, it's time to let him know,
Put on the signature do-rag, this is the Cowboys' show.
A frightening exercise with verse, to be sure, but the Cowboys' fans are sure to be primed for the return of Prime Time, hoping quarterback Troy Aikman can complete a few passes his way or that Sanders' face mask will dart in front of a punt, as it did in the first meeting.
Actually, punt duties could be returning to Sanders, so to speak, with the coaching staff looking for ways to cut down the workload of wide receiver James Thrash. Sanders said he spoke with interim coach Terry Robiskie about the possibility, though Robiskie revealed little.
"As a coaching staff, we've discussed it," Robiskie said. "We're still trying to figure out if it's going to be an advantage for us or a disadvantage for Deion… . If he can go and help us, it'll be a big plus. Right now, we don't know."
Sanders yielded primary punt return duties about two months ago, both because he was suffering from back spasms and because his 7.3-yard average wasn't getting it done. Thrash has averaged 10.6 yards since, but his long is just 25, and it's doubtful Skip Hicks is a better kickoff returner than Sanders is a punt returner.
Sanders' removal from special teams is one primary criticism of his first season as a Redskin. The others are his rough game in the Week 2 loss to Detroit when he surrendered seven passes and a 33-yard touchdown catch by Jacksonville rookie R. Jay Soward in Week 8.
But Redskins coaches have complimented Sanders' improved focus in recent weeks, and his errors have been magnified because he was so dominant for so long. Said fellow cornerback Champ Bailey: "People don't like him because he's good and he talks about it."
Sanders himself recoiled when asked to evaluate his season, interrupting a reporter listing his highs and lows.
"That's not fair [to say] 'I've had a couple moments,' " Sanders said. "When I play my game, my man isn't making any noise. The guys I'm covering this year really haven't been making any noise… . So don't judge me. Judge us as a whole. Don't judge me personally, privately, individually."
Of course, Washington fans have just as Dallas fans will Sunday. But the boos most accurately could be seen as a validation of Sanders' role in the celebrated rivalry. He's one of the most famous and flamboyant players in NFL history, and he jumped from the Hatfields to the McCoys in ultra high-profile fashion. Plus, he's made plays his most recent touchdown, for example, came last year in Washington's 38-20 loss at Dallas, on a 70-yard punt return.
And even if Sanders wants to forget his personal involvement, he has to admit that it's his kind of game.
"It's always pressure," Sanders said. "I love pressure, because when pressure's applied, whatever's inside of you is going to come out. Like a tube of toothpaste. When you squeeze, whatever's inside of you is going to come out. I love it, because I've got some good stuff in me."

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