As Deion Sanders walked back down the tunnel to the field early in the second half, he had no recollection of the helmet-to-helmet hit on a punt return that knocked him woozy and sent him to the locker room with a concussion with less than six minutes left in the first quarter.
With 12 1/2 minutes remaining in the third period, Sanders was on his way back to the field after being treated by the team's medical staff. As he was walking, a Cowboys trainer told an equipment man not to bother to bring Sanders's helmet because he was done for the day. But no one had told Sanders.
He was carrying his own helmet, which he put on to dash onto the field at cornerback. Much to the dismay of the Washington Redskins, and perhaps the Cowboys' medical staff, he played the rest of the game.
"I didn't know where I was," Sanders said. "They asked me at halftime what I remembered. I said I remembered that I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids. I knew the doctors weren't going to let me out there. I didn't want to hear 'no' for an answer, so I just ran out" onto the field.
Sanders clearly remembered how to play defense and run back punts in Dallas's 38-20 victory over the Redskins. The win ended the Cowboys' two-game losing streak and pushed them into a tie for first place with Washington in the NFC East.
The Redskins threw to the all-pro cornerback's side only twice, and Sanders uncorked a spectacular 70-yard punt return with 9 minutes 3 seconds left in the game.
Sanders had been challenged twice last week, once by Coach Chan Gailey, who had told the Cowboys--without naming any names--they would need a big return against the Redskins. Sanders said he knew full well whom Gailey was talking about.
Sanders also was aware of incendiary comments made by Redskins wide receiver Albert Connell, who had said Wednesday that Sanders couldn't cover him one-on-one.
Connell had a 44-yard touchdown catch to cut Dallas's lead to four points late in the third quarter but was covered by cornerback Kevin Mathis on the play. Connell had only one other reception for eight yards and was not a factor in the final period.
When the game ended, Connell waited on the field for Sanders and the two spoke briefly.
"I told Albert he played a good game," Sanders said. "But I also let him know that if he's going to hunt rabbits, it ain't no fun when the rabbit gets a gun. A lot of players want to make a name on me. I'm not that old yet. You need to have respect for your rivals. I told the Reverend Fryar [Redskins wide receiver Irving Fryar] before the game, 'Please forgive me for what I'm about to do.' "
Other Cowboys also took notice of Connell's remarks.
"It was in a prominent place in our locker room," Gailey said.
Quarterback Troy Aikman said he was surprised by the pregame trash talk, considering the importance of the game.
"I'm amused any time that kind of talk is said in this league," Aikman said after the game. "I don't understand it. It's not boxing--you don't have to sell tickets. A lot of guys want to bring attention to themselves and get publicity. I don't get it. Some of the things said were inappropriate."
Sanders, meantime, said the hit he took from long snapper Dan Turk was not a cheap shot. He blamed himself for getting knocked out of the game, saying: "I shouldn't have done that spin move in the open field. It was a stupid play. He [Turk] made a great play."
Sanders made many, one of the biggest coming with his team ahead by 11 in the fourth quarter and the Redskins forced to punt from their 35. Punter Brian Hansen, who was signed this week to replace Matt Turk (broken finger), sent a low, 35-yard wobbler in Sanders's direction.
Although it appeared that an illegal block in the back by the Cowboys' Robert Thomas on Mike Sellers helped spring Sanders, no flag was thrown. Sanders dashed through a huge opening on the right side, easily flew by the punter and was able to outrace the rest of the coverage into the end zone.
It was his first punt return touchdown of the season, and after the game he said with two more he would be buying all of his mates on the return team Rolex watches.
"It was the first time this season I could actually see things open up in front of me," he said. "The guys gave me some breathing room."
His teammates were saying that Sanders helped set the tone on the first play of the game, when he came up from the corner to smack down Redskins running back Stephen Davis for a four-yard loss. Sanders has a reputation for avoiding most contact, but said, "I can do that if I want to."
On this day, Sanders could do just about anything he pleased, until he tried to leave the stadium in an antique Lincoln Continental convertible with his wife at the wheel. Parked in the stadium tunnel, there was too much traffic to get out until stadium police helped clear the way. Everything else this afternoon was pretty much all Deion, all the prime time.