Saturday, August 30, 1997
Let Cowboys have Deion

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now that Deion Sanders has found religion, perhaps it is time he practices a little charity.

Perhaps he should buy his way out of his Cincinnati Reds contract.

Too hurt to play baseball for the past two weeks, America's two-sport hype machine is nonetheless expected to have healed sufficiently to suit up Sunday for the Dallas Cowboys. That bulging disk in his lower back seems to ache a little less at cornerback than in center field.

How odd. How curious. How convenient.

This is not to accuse Sanders of sandbagging - of deliberately holding himself out of the Reds' race for third place in order to save himself for pro football - but that is the impression he has created. Though he is famous for playing football as a non-contact sport, Sanders would seem to be at greater risk of bodily harm against the Steelers than the Minnesota Twins.

The Neon Evangelist may well return to the Reds afterward (Reds General Manager Jim Bowden says he volunteered to play Friday), but the interested parties would all be better off if Sanders were to commit to the Cowboys full-time. Certainly he should drop the charade that he can satisfactorily serve two masters simultaneously.

A chance for rookies

Deion's place is plainly in Dallas now. The Reds' season has reached the stage where the rookies are trying to make a mark and the veterans are marking time. Each at bat Sanders gets in September reduces Bowden's ability to evaluate Jon Nunnally and Chris Stynes and - God love him - Pete Rose, Jr.

Fast as he is, Sanders can only get in the way at Cinergy Field right now.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are Super Bowl contenders and short-handed in the secondary. They see Sanders as someone who can skip training camp, walk in off the street and immediately stifle star receivers.

''If you throw four balls at a normal corner, you may complete three and one is incomplete,'' says Dave Campo, the Cowboys defensive coordinator. ''With Deion, you throw four balls over there and maybe two are incomplete, one's broken up and the fourth one is going back the other direction.''

The National Football League has not known many players who have defended passes so assertively. Maybe Mike Haynes. Maybe Lester Hayes. Maybe Dick ''Night Train'' Lane. A handful, at most.

''He's a God-gifted child,'' said Bengals cornerback Corey Sawyer, who followed Sanders at Florida State. ''I wouldn't be able to do what he's doing. But Deion can put pro football down for a couple of years and come back and make the Pro Bowl.''

Sanders' star has risen more slowly in baseball. He leads the National League in stolen bases, but speed has been his only dependable dimension. Baseball challenges Sanders as football has not, which is a large part of its appeal.

It's the Cowboys' turn

Yet the risk/return ratio of Sanders' staying with the Reds this season has reached the point of pointlessness. Much as Sanders may wish to protect his stolen base lead, some breathtaking moments on the basepaths are not going to salvage the Reds' season, and they could compromise the Cowboys' chances in the NFC East.

How would Cowboys owner Jerry Jones feel about his $35 million investment if Sanders were to break an ankle sliding into second base as the Reds play out the string?

Wouldn't Sanders best serve Cincinnati's sporting interests Sunday by helping to beat the hated Steelers rather than the shrug-inducing Twins?

The answers to these questions are obvious. The solution is simple. The Reds save almost $7,000 in salary each day Sanders spends with the Cowboys. For a small cash settlement, they would likely let him go completely.

''When we signed Deion, we understood that if we were in a pennant race, he would play 162 games for the Reds,'' Bowden said. ''We knew what was going to happen this time of year if we weren't in the race.''

What Bowden may not have known was that Deion Sanders demonstrates different pain thresholds in different sports. The man is nothing if not versatile.