When the quarterback at Southern Mississippi threw his first pass as a sophomore, the Florida State cornerback intercepted it. And when the quarterback was a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons, the cornerback known as Prime Time nicknamed him Country Time.
Now the quarterback, Brett Favre, is with the Green Bay Packers; the cornerback, Deion Sanders, is with the Dallas Cowboys. More than any other two players, they light up the marquee of today’s National Conference championship game that will determine which team advances to Super Bowl XXX.
The quarterback has been knighted as the National Football League’s most valuable player this season. The cornerback is its most voluble player; since he also returns punts and lines up occasionally at wide receiver, he is also its most visible player.
It’s enough to make Falcons fans wonder why that franchise traded the quarterback and allowed the cornerback to dance away as a free agent. Whatever the reasons, the Packers and the Cowboys are grateful, even if the cornerback took a detour through San Francisco to get a Super Bowl ring.
“When Brett was in Atlanta, he was my boy,” the cornerback said. “I knew he wasn’t going to be a second-team player.”
The quarterback from Kiln (pronounced Kill), Miss., is as tough as the Gulf Coast alligators that pounced on three of his family’s dogs. Under his skin is a slab of plastic protecting the area where 30 inches of intestines were removed after a 1990 auto accident; when he rubs his side, you can hear the plastic rumble.
The quarterback is also as “Country” as the cornerback is “Prime.” The QB likes to say, “Coming from a small town keeps you humble.” The cornerback from Fort Myers, Fla., doesn’t want to be humble; he dances on rap videos and smirks with his club owner on pizza commercials, but his ex-Atlanta teammate is clearly fond of him.
“Some people are jealous of Deion, but you name it, whatever he does, he’s good at it,” Favre said.
In the 1991 draft, the New York Jets were waiting to snatch Favre in the second round. But the Falcons took him, sat him for a season, then traded him for a firstrounder to Green Bay, where Ron Wolf, who had been in the Jets’ front office, was the new general manager.
“Brett does things other quarterbacks can’t do,” Sanders said. “He can throw bullets, he can throw deep, he can run. He’s got a real head for the game.”
In Texas Stadium, where the Packers have lost five straight with Favre in the last three seasons, their 26-year-old QB with the mischievous grin will be winging passes to receiver Robert Brooks against a defense with Sanders perched out there at right cornerback.
In addition to covering Brooks on pass routes, Sanders’ role as a wide receiver and punt returner will dictate how the Packers cover him. Against Philadelphia last week, he sashayed 21 yards on an end-around for a touchdown and squirted a total of 21 yards on two punt returns.
He lined up for 13 offensive snaps last week; Today the Cowboys hope to give him 20 snaps along with his duties on defense and as a punt returner. In modern pro football, there has never been anyone quite like him. He may be the first three-way player. And to a great extent today, what Prime Time does or doesn’t do will determine what Country Time does.
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