From pennant race to touchdown run Falcons' Sanders gets instant results

September 14, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Fresh from a pennant race in baseball, center fielder/cornerback Deion Sanders joined the Atlanta Falcons' football season in progress yesterday.

He quickly made up for lost time and missed opportunity.

Sanders' scintillating, 99-yard kickoff return for a second-quarter touchdown kept the Falcons from being overrun by the Washington Redskins.

It was not enough to keep the Falcons from dropping a 24-17 decision at RFK Stadium, Atlanta's third loss in two years here.

Sanders returned with a splash -- he also made four tackles and broke up two passes at cornerback -- but disappeared afterward without a whisper. The fourth-year veteran dodged a crowd of reporters and made a slippery escape to the team bus without uttering even a line of "It's good to be back."

It was left to his teammates, coach and opponents to marvel at the athleticism that spawned the nickname "Prime Time" and recently made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Sanders rejoined the Falcons last week with a new, $2 million contract for the 1992 season.

"It was typical Deion Sanders," Falcons cornerback Tim McKyer said. "He's going to make something happen. He's a catalyst for this team. He does something to my game. I wish he was in when I got my interception, because I would have been looking for him.

"Every time I get one [an interception], I'm looking for 21 [Sanders' number]."

How much -- or even whether -- Sanders would play against the Redskins was uncertain at kickoff. He made his first appearance in the secondary after Washington advanced to the Atlanta 30 in the first quarter. On his second play at cornerback, he dropped into zone coverage and gave Ricky Sanders a big cushion. The Redskins receiver dropped the pass from quarterback Mark Rypien.

Later in the quarter, Deion Sanders dumped Art Monk after a 4-yard gain on a reverse.

Moments after Desmond Howard broke a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown on a lateral from Brian Mitchell in the second quarter -- and with the Redskins threatening a rout at 14-0 -- Sanders fielded Chip Lohmiller's kickoff on the 1-yard line and headed upfield. He eluded Alvoid Mays as he broke out of a crowd and went for the sideline. Danny Copeland dove at Sanders at the 30, but came up with nothing but grass. No other Redskins even got close to him.

The Falcons stayed within striking distance after that. They had two scoring opportunities inside the Redskins' 10 in the fourth quarter, but came away with only three points.

Sanders gained 16 yards on his only other kickoff return, but nevertheless struck fear in the Redskins.

"He's got athletic arrogance, so he thinks he can take it [for a touchdown] every single time," said Wayne Sevier, Redskins special teams coach. "He's got that kind of attitude."

Falcons coach Jerry Glanville used Sanders sparingly at first on defense "because we didn't want to totally wear him out," but planned to use him on kickoffs.

"He hadn't caught any punts [in practice]," Glanville said. "What we did Thursday was have him catching kickoffs. We didn't want him to hit the wedge yet, so we called for a left return and he just turned it the other way. Some people had angles on him, but that doesn't matter with him."

The news of Sanders' signing became Sevier's nightmare.

"This week, I was thinking I don't have to worry about Deion," Sevier said. "All of a sudden, he shows up, and then he takes one back."

The Falcons were grateful yesterday. Come October and the baseball playoffs, though, and Sanders heads back to the Atlanta Braves.

The Falcons no doubt will miss him.

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