- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Deion Sanders sometimes goes dancing only moments before he is enlisted to catch a punt and advance the ball.

The timing of the dance is unusual. Most NFL players usually go dancing after they have scored a touchdown or reinvented the wheel. Theirs is merely a celebratory function, and two left feet are permitted.

Sanders is a brilliant dancer. Give him that. No music is necessary, just crowd noise and national televison.

His contractions are highly suggestive. They seem to indicate that he feels a big return coming over him.

"The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure," Mikhail Baryshnikov says.

The essence also requires that you catch the ball and not let it hit your face mask.

You don't drop the ballerina and you don't drop the ball. You learn that in your first class in classical dance.

Sanders is conducting a campaign to name the cornerback position after himself. A street named in his honor is not good enough, possibly because most Americans eventually get a street named after them.

Sanders is different, to say the least, either over the top or at the bottom of a pile, depending on if the ball has glanced off his face mask.

A ball off the face mask apparently is his version of the "Nutcracker."

Sanders is not the first athlete in Washington to raise eyebrows with a dance number.

Chris Webber used to have an urge to dance after cutting his team's deficit to 20 points with a dunk. His giddiness rarely was shared by those obsessed with the numbers on the scoreboard.

Perhaps you have to be a dancer to understand.

Most people want to get out of the rain. Gene Kelly made a lasting impression by "Singin' in the Rain."

Sanders is a multitalented person: football player, baseball player and dancer. At this pace, he will be at the Kennedy Center in his next professional life instead of the place formerly known as Raljon.

Sanders was acquired to make big plays. As it turns out, the Boy Owner could have signed Tommy Tune and received the same return on his Benjamins.

Sanders has returned seven punts for 19 yards in three games. That comes out to an average of falling forward after catching the ball, if he catches the ball. His best play so far is a perfectly executed handoff to Champ Bailey that resulted in a 54-yard return.

Sanders has not been too spectacular in the secondary, either. But he is providing the intangibles: exceptional dancing, excellent quotes and one nice handoff.

With Sanders, the art comes first. Ever after the ordeal with an uncooperative face mask, Sanders displayed his rhythm as he waited for the next punt. A fair catch was an agreeable alternative.

This can-do spirit connects the NFL to the Olympics. Sydney has rhythmic gymnastics. Washington has rhythmic punt returns.

Like most artists, Sanders speaks to the masses through his choreographed interpretations of the moment. Here is what he seemed to be saying after the collision between the ball and face mask: "Oops."

Fred Astaire, if he were still around, could not have put it better.

As it is, Sanders is due to break a long one or come down with turf toe.

Until then, he is obligated to ignore the suspicions that accompany a 33rd birthday. Of course, special athletes don't lose their specialness all at once. The aging process is sneakier than that, the capacity to be special not as consistent as it once was.

Sanders remains special enough before the ball enters his vicinity. He is an accomplished dancer, and no one can take that away from him.

They can take away his do-rag and his lofty standing in the game, but they can't take away his rendition of the cha-cha.

At least Washington now knows all the possibilities if Sanders is swaying to an imaginary beat before the ball descends to the air space near his face mask.

That is the fumble dance, although the name is negotiable, if Sanders cares to claim it.

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