He once knocked out David Archer. He once leveled Jim Everett. And Monday night, in full view of a national television audience, Andre Waters twice went after the legs of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon.

Who is Andre Waters and why has the NFL suddenly drawn a bull's-eye on his back?

Depending on who's doing the talking, he's either a very aggressive player with an undeserved reputation or he's the dirtiest player in the NFL.

At the very least, he's a factor this week as the Washington Redskins prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles to come to RFK Stadium on Sunday. The Eagles are Randall Cunningham and Reggie White and Keith Jackson. . . .

And while the Redskins have to prepare for the Pro Bowlers, they'll also spend some time on the unpredictable strong safety, Mr. Waters.

"They don't call him 'Dirty Waters' for nothing," Cunningham said yesterday.

Waters is the guy who knocked the breath out of Washington quarterback Doug Williams two years ago and he's the guy who NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said will be investigated for his hits against Gannon on "Monday Night Football." He's the guy who spends about half his time warning other players what he will do, or hearing players warn him about what they're about to do.

"You want me to talk about who?" Redskins tight end Don Warren said yesterday. "No way."

Several other Redskins, including quarterback Stan Humphries, reacted the same way. Coach Joe Gibbs said only, "You have to be prepared. The Eagles come at you with everything but the kitchen sink."

One Redskin did talk. Defensive tackle Jumpy Geathers, who may be activated on Sunday, points to a couple of long scars around his right knee, and said maybe it wasn't Waters so much as the system.

Geathers's 1989 season with the New Orleans Saints ended in Week 15 when a hit by Philadelphia guard Mike Schad tore his right knee apart. Geathers said he thought his career was over, especially since he'd already undergone reconstructive surgery on his left knee two years earlier.

When the Saints left him unprotected in the Plan B free-agency system, he said he was told: "Don't worry, you won't get any offers."

He was stunned to get about 10 and narrowed his choices to the Redskins and 49ers, finally picking Washington for its three-year, $1.5 million offer. But his recovery has been slow.

On his final play of 1989, Geathers said, he dived for a loose ball and Schad dived for him.

"He cheap-shotted me," Geathers said. "There's a lot of guys {on the Eagles} that do cheap shots."

Geathers said Schad "was definitely trying to get me out of the game because I was having a good game already. He couldn't handle me so he was definitely trying to get me out of the game. I was going for the ball. You can't see behind your back. I'm going to have a bad knee the rest of my life, but the other guy didn't think that way."

Asked about getting revenge if he's activated, Geathers said: "He's on offense so he's got an advantage on me. I'm just going to play my game. You start holding a grudge and you get out of your game plan. You're not out there to get a guy back."

Geathers, asked about Waters, shrugged. "They outlaw steroids -- they ought to outlaw guys trying to end somebody's career," he said. "You can't end somebody's career just to win the game. {Schad} limited my career in the NFL and took money out of my pocket. You've got guys who are really good athletes who respect each other and don't try to come down to hurt you, but then you've got guys who have no feeling for anybody and they get a name other ways."

The Eagles defend their man and their style of play. Coach Buddy Ryan said he watched tapes of the two plays against Gannon and thought the plays looked okay to him.

"I thought it was a clean deal," he said. "He's had a reputation since I've been here of being a dirty ballplayer. He's not. He's a good kid, an aggressive kid. He plays the game all the way. He got the reputation in '86 when he'd chase people out of bounds. He's cleaned up his act since then. He was killing us before."

Cunningham said that teams preparing for the Eagles had better prepare for Waters. "He's a hardcore player," he said. "If you go through there lollygagging, he's going to give you a shot. What he does is legal. He goes 100 percent. He throws his whole body at you."

Cunningham said that Waters and Redskins safety Alvin Walton are similar players.

"I think he and Walton are basically the same style players," he said. "Neither one of them are dirty players. They just go in there and try to knock you out. They're two tough players. You've got to respect them for their ability. When you see them, you better slide and prepare to get hit anyway.

"If you want to run out of bounds because you think you're not going to get hit, you better get out of bounds faster."

Walton refused to join the debate, saying that he had enough to worry about without defending himself.

The subject of Waters and late hits isn't new to the Redskins. In the first game of 1987 he ran into kicker Jess Atkinson and broke his ankle. In the second meeting that season Waters punched Williams in the stomach. Then before the two teams played several weeks later, Mark Rypien, by then elevated to the starting job, called Waters a cheap-shot artist.

Ironically, Williams came off the bench to win that game. The subject came up again last season when Williams started the second game against the Eagles and helped the Redskins to a 10-3 victory.

"You prepare for them like anyone else," guard Russ Grimm said Sunday when asked about Waters and the Eagles. "They've got certain things they do and basically you have to be prepared to block everyone in this league. You can't prepare for some guy to hit you late, but you're aware of it."