Sanders was a bit apprehensive in the days before Sunday's game. "I have to prove myself all over again," he said. "I've been voted All-Pro, but I have to show the guys on this team that this is going to work, that I can help them get to the Super Bowl. The basic attraction here is the chance to get to the Super Bowl. If I ever gel to play in that game, they're going to have to put seatbelts on the seats, because I'm gonna light it up."
The flamboyant, bejeweled Sanders wants to be on America's biggest sporting stage. Yet he also senses the importance of not talking too much and not strutting too much, because the 49ers are a conservative, low-key bunch of guys.
Sanders had little direct impact on Sunday's game, but the Rams knew he was there. Almost every time he lined up at right corner in the Niners' nickel defense, the L.A. Ram quarterback—Chris Miller, then Chris Chandler—would fade back and not even look in his direction, ignoring the receiver on that side, Flipper Anderson or Isaac Bruce. They were blanketed by Sanders, who defended against two passes, had none caught on him and had one pass-interference penalty called on him when back judge Scott Steenson threw a flag on him for hand-checking Anderson too aggressively.
In the fourth quarter Sanders and his one-time adversary Jerry Rice playfully got in each other's faces after Rice was stopped a yard short of the end zone by a Todd Lyght tackle. "Damn, Prime!" Rice said to Sanders as he walked off the field. Said Sanders to Rice, "Hey, if that had been me, you definitely would have scored. You'd have run right over me."
As he headed to the team bus late Sunday, Sanders was told that commissioner Paul Tagliabue was reportedly ready to investigate Sanders's signing to see if his contract violated the cap. Sanders laughed. "Tell him I'll fax it to him," he said. "Be happy to. What's his fax number in New York?"
Then he got serious. "There's nothing wrong with that contract. Everybody's trying to get inside my head because they don't believe I would have signed for so much less money. Would you please tell me what is wrong with a man doing something that makes him happy? I just want to be on a championship team."
With that, Sanders was gone. Behind him, Policy waited to board the bus. "I know we made the right decision," he said. "I know he's going to help us win." And even if they don't win, give the 49ers their due. They'll go down swinging.
A Sad Chapter
Largely overlooked amid the fun of Throwbacks Weekend, during which each team wore vintage uniforms in celebration of the NFL's 75th anniversary, is the fact that, while the league had as many as 13 black players—and one black player-coach, Fritz Pollard—on its rosters during its first decade, blacks were quietly banned from the league between 1934 and '45. On Sunday, Pittsburgh honored the three living players from the Steelers' first team, in 1933, one of whom was Ray Kemp, a two-way tackle who played his college ball at Duquesne. Kemp, now 86, is a black man who was cut before the '34 season when the NFL became lily-white.
In 1946 the Rams rebroke the color barrier by signing halfback Kenny Washington and end Woody Strode, both of whom had played football at UCLA with Jackie Robinson (that same fall the Browns, then in the All-American Football Conference, signed fullback Marion Motley and guard Bill Willis), but it would be another 17 years before the Redskins, the league's last holdout, traded for Bobby Mitchell, who became their first black.