And then there is this: "The frustrating thing about him is that he doesn't turn the ball over," says Bear coach Dave Wannstedt. "He's not a fumbler."
Topping off this sublime package is "his running instinct—for feeling guys around him, knowing when to cut back, when to make a move," says Minnesota Viking defensive coordinator Tony Dungy. "He doesn't get touched on a lot of his runs. It's instinct. You can't coach it. You can't practice against it, because you don't know where he's going—and he probably doesn't know where he's going when the play starts."
Is there anyone in the league remotely like him? "No. Nobody," says Dungy.
Sanders's uncanny ability to cut back is the main reason why he disrupts defenses. "He screws you up," says Dungy. "You know you have to get to the ball, you have to swarm, because you can't rely on one guy to tackle him. But if you overpursue and he cuts back, that's when he makes a lot of big runs."
So, says Glanville, "the people on the back side have got to sit, to make sure he's not coming back that way. Then, if he goes on to the front side and pops it, there's no pursuit."
"You've got to protect your back-side and front-side gaps equally," says Wannstedt, "which is very different from defending against most running backs."
On offense, most teams give the back side only cursory blocking. The Lions block the back side of a play as intensely as they block the front side. "The way he changes our blocking patterns," says Detroit offensive coordinator Dave Levy, "is that we don't do a lot of pulling or blocking down. We try to get into people and stretch them, and then let him see the lanes wherever they are."
At that point, says Sanders, "your eyes aren't going to lie to you." He speaks of his superb vision as though he can zoom it in or out: "People say my eyes get big right before a run, when my peripheral vision is really kicking in."
Sometimes Sanders cuts back so quickly that it seems as though he must have known, even in the huddle, that he would be going against the flow of the play. How does he know ahead of time? "You always get a feel for how people are playing defensively," he says. "Obviously, if they're pursuing hard, then there are going to be more cutback lanes. You can usually get a pretty good feel for that during the course of a game." Still, he says, once he has the ball, "you can't count on them to pursue. You have to see it and react to what you see."
In preparing to face Sanders, defenders must relearn for one game the way they play their positions. Safeties, for instance, are taught to deliver kamikaze hits. That won't work against Sanders. "You're trained to deliver the heaviest lick you can—try to knock the guy out," says Glanville. "But this guy's going to make you miss, doing that. Lord, nobody wants to coach a safety to just grab and hang on. But you have to, with Sanders. He's so slippery he doesn't take a big hit."