Andre Waters will tell you he is intense. He will tell you his instincts sometimes take over when he is making a tackle, that a quarterback is fair game when he leaves the pocket. The Philadelphia Eagles safety will tell you he is a victim of his own reputation. He will blab on and on about how he doesn't do anything other defensive backs don't do. He will not, however, acknowledge the truth: He throws dangerous cheap shots that could easily end a player's career.

Waters's performance Monday night against the Vikings was ugly, even for him. Once in open field and once on the sideline, Waters readied his elbows, lowered his helmet like a projectile and fired out after quarterback Rich Gannon's knees. Waters had done the same thing to David Archer and Jim Everett, among others. All were lucky they weren't seriously injured.

Dan Dierdorf, an ABC analyst and former all-pro offensive lineman for the Cardinals, called the blows exactly what they were: "cheap shots." Waters has taken exception, saying he always tackles low and has been tackling that way since he was in pee wee football. He says it's Dierdorf who's taking a cheap shot, reading into another man's intentions.

Fortunately, Dierdorf isn't backing off his statement one inch. Reached yesterday in St. Louis, he said: "Normally when I say something critical of someone, I take a couple of steps back on Tuesday morning and say, 'Maybe I went too far that time or overstated the matter.' But I don't regret one word I said about Andre Waters and the shots he took. . . . Can there be any other intention than to injure when you go for someone's knees? I tried to explain that, for the most part, I respect the way he plays -- that he's one of the best safeties in the league.

"But he steps over the line. . . . If Monday night had been the first time I'd seen Andre Waters do that, I would not have reacted as violently as I did. But I've seen it too many times before. He's got a track record of going for the knees. When is he going to wake up?"

Not soon, apparently.

Questioned on Tuesday, Waters said: "The first hit on Gannon, that wasn't intentional. Instinct took over and I'm sorry for that hit. But the {rulebook} doesn't say anything about once the quarterback gets out of the pocket -- he becomes a running back then."

That's the standard Waters answer: Apology, instinct, fair game. Some of it can be fairly convincing. Jess Atkinson, the former Maryland and Redskins kicker now working as a sports reporter for Channel 4, had his career ended when Waters landed on his ankle. Some say it was another Dirty Waters cheap shot; Atkinson says Waters was only trying to block the extra-point attempt.

Earlier this week, Channel 4 sent Atkinson to interview Waters. "You know what amazed me most?" Atkinson asked. "He was apologetic and he was sincere. That doesn't diminish what he does on the field, but it explains a lot about the guy. He's got a military background, and to him it's life or death on the field. It's like war to him."

To Waters, an Army reservist, all is fair in war. He seems to ignore the unspoken rule in football that that you don't intentionally hit a man, who makes his living the same way you do, in his knees. "There are some guys," Atkinson said, "who'll tell you, 'I'll hit you under the chin as hard as I can,' and that's okay. L.T. has had more free shots on quarterbacks than anybody who's played the game, but you see where he hits guys? Up high. Coaches scream at defensive players all the time in practice, 'Go up high -- get a hand in his face.' How can it not be a conscious decision on {Waters's} part when he goes for the knees?"

It's also cowardly. Dierdorf says it is "virtually impossible to retaliate against" a safety because of where he's positioned on the field. And Atkinson said, "Isn't it ironic that the player in question here is a guy that you can't 'get back' unless you blatantly go out of your way to do it, something most players in the league are opposed to doing?"

When Waters started his war analogy after Monday night's game, one sportswriter -- who played defensive back in college -- said to Waters, "Even war has boundaries."

The silence on the other end of the phone was very telling on Wednesday when Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham was asked about Waters's hits. The silence was a long one. Then Cunningham stammered. "Ummmm. Ahhhhh. They don't call him 'Dirty Waters' for nothing." That, remember, came from a teammate, a man who watched the anguish on Gannon's face and realized, but for the luck of the draft, it could have been his knees Waters was blasting.

Dierdorf says he is not advocating a fine or a suspension. "Only Andre Waters can police Andre Waters," he said.

Atkinson said, "What ought to happen is Buddy Ryan should say to him: 'I won't tolerate that. You do that cheap shot stuff here and you're out.' "

Atkinson is right. But, of course, Ryan has created the atmosphere in which Waters thrives. When the booing of Cunningham grew loud and unmistakable Monday night, several Eagles made obscene gestures to the fans. Safety Wes Hopkins even took a few steps toward a group of very loud boo-birds sitting in a field-level box. This pattern of misbehavior has gone far enough. When Eagles owner Norman Braman said recently, "The inmates aren't going to run the asylum; I'm going to run the asylum," it was a perfect-fit analogy.

Then, instead of waiting for a league review or his disinclined coach to do something about the team's most festering sore, Braman ought to act before one of those brainless hits on a man's knee end a career.