-- He still has the suit.
"It's still in the closet,'' Deion Sanders said with a slight chuckle in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room Thursday, recalling the resplendent burgundy-and-gold outfit that he donned for his introductory news conference when he signed with the Washington Redskins as a free agent before the 2000 season.
The suit and the approximately $8 million that he pocketed for one season of work before retiring prior to the 2001 season are the cornerback's mementos from his Redskins tenure. The Redskins didn't win the Super Bowl trophy that owner Daniel Snyder coveted when he brought in Sanders, defensive end Bruce Smith, safety Mark Carrier and quarterback Jeff George via free agency for the 2000 season, and Sanders didn't play long enough or quite well enough to leave town with a storehouse of fond memories.
Redskins fans still haven't forgiven him, it seems. But Snyder apparently has. The two have had a cordial relationship since Sanders left, and Sanders spoke fondly of Snyder and the Redskins on Thursday as his new team readies to play one of his old ones Sunday night at FedEx Field.
"I don't hate anybody,'' Sanders said, with reporters crowding around his locker after waiting for him to brush his teeth following the Ravens' morning walk-through. "I want to win the game just as bad as my teammates, but I'm not a hateful guy. . . . Dan's a great guy, man, a great individual, a great person, committed to winning -- not just winning, but winning it all. My hat's off to him. I love him. I wish him the best. I want him to have success -- not this Sunday, but I want him to have success. He's a great guy. He really is.''
Sanders, 37, returned to football after losing his spot on the CBS studio show in the offseason because of a contract dispute, then being coaxed out of retirement by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive back Corey Fuller. He has missed the past two games because of a strained hamstring, but he practiced Thursday and said he hopes to play Sunday night. Of course, the Ravens also thought he was going to play in Monday night's loss at home to the Kansas City Chiefs, and he didn't.
"We felt very good about last week [and] he ought to be even further along this week,'' said Ravens Coach Brian Billick, who added that he expects Sanders to have some extra incentive when he faces the Redskins: "That covers a lot of teams for Deion, so we've got a lot of pumping up to do. But any time you play a team where you've been a part of that organization before, you're going to put a little something extra into that game.''
Sanders's season with the Redskins is remembered by most of the team's followers for him bumping Darrell Green from the starting lineup, for an early-season game at Detroit in which the Lions picked on him, for a muffed punt that bounced off his face mask and for an exit in which he avoided playing for taskmaster coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2001. But, really, Sanders didn't fare that badly. He played hurt and was part of a defense that ranked second in the league against the pass and fourth overall. He surrendered only one touchdown all season. He won a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a punt return and preserved a triumph at Giants Stadium with an interception.
"Let's talk facts,'' Sanders said. "Let's not talk fiction. We took the 30th-ranked defense to fourth. The two cornerbacks, we gave up one touchdown the entire year. That's facts, not fiction. . . . We were expected to really go to the Super Bowl, make the playoffs that year, and it didn't happen. I think we had some key injuries. Then they wanted to hire a new coach. I think everything just went backwards from there.''
Sanders maintained Thursday that his abrupt departure was not attributable entirely to Schottenheimer's arrival. But he also said he should be congratulated for knowing when to leave. Redskins veterans, including Green and Smith, struggled to adjust to Schottenheimer's demanding methods and the club lost its first five games of the 2001 season before rallying to finish 8-8.
"I was too old to just start over,'' Sanders said. "You went there to win. You went there to win it all. Now you're going to start over? And you know you're not going to win it all that year you bring in a new coach. . . . I just didn't have that type of time to rebuild. . . . I'm not going to blame everything on Marty Schottenheimer. I'm not going to give him that much credit. I'm just going to say it was great timing. It really was. I pretty much knew what was going to happen before it happened.''
He always has been described by those he has played alongside, in both baseball and football, as a reliable teammate who knew when to turn off his "Prime Time'' persona. This week, the "Monday Night Football'' cameras caught him tying the shoe of Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter on the sideline because Baxter, whose hand is hurt, couldn't do so.
"We have a saying around here, 'Do all you can do,' '' Baxter said. "I guess that's what he was doing.''
Said Sanders: "I'm not going to say that's what I'm here for. But any time I can help, it's wonderful.''
He is not the player he was, the player who took away half the field by scaring offenses into throwing passes as far away from him as possible. He isn't even a starter any more. But he remains convinced that he can contribute to a winning team. Even so, he declined to assess his level of play in his comeback.
"That's not for me to judge,'' Sanders said. "I'm going to leave that up to you. I have no problem with finding judges around here.''