But do the Cowboys need him on the team? The answer was "perhaps"—until the season opener, when they lost starting cornerback Kevin Smith to a ruptured Achilles tendon. The need for another corner having become suddenly acute, Switzer issued, through the media, a message to his boss after the opener, a plea that also served as an invitation for Prime Time to jack up his asking price. "It's serious now," said Switzer. "Go get Deion. We need Deion, now."
This proclamation did little to boost the confidence of Cowboy reserve Clayton Holmes, a fourth-year cornerback who will keep the position warm for Sanders for another five games or so. Holmes preferred to look upon his second career start, in which he would go up against Bronco quarterback John Elway, not so much as a nightmare as an opportunity. "If I could have a good game against Elway," said Holmes, who is one of those glass-is-half-full kind of guys, "that would be a great boost for my morale."
The Broncos eagerly attacked him. Elway tried to connect with wideout Anthony Miller on at least three "go" routs to Holmes's side. Holmes broke up every one. When Elway and Miller did finally hook up for a pair of touchdown passes, from 11 and 59 yards, it was veteran defensive backs Larry Brown, Scott Case and Woodson, rather than Holmes, who were beaten.
Despite those two TD strikes, it was a forgettable day for Elway, who completed just 11 of 24 passes, threw an interception and a whole batch of ugly balls. The chief source of his misery was Haley, nicknamed Chucky by the Cowboys because he reminds them of the havoc-wreaking antagonist in the movie Child's Play.
Having retired after last January's NFC Championship Game, Haley exercised his constitutional right to change his mind. He came out of retirement in the off-season, then spent Sunday hastening the retirement of Denver's Pro Bowl left tackle Gary Zimmerman, who couldn't have blocked Haley with a front-end loader. Working primarily from the right side, Haley had five tackles, two sacks, forced a fumble that led to Dallas's final score and induced Zimmerman to take a holding penalty and commit a personal foul.
Jones gets an extra frisson of pleasure from every sack and every tackle by Haley, simply because the pass-rushing specialist is an ex-49er. On Saturday, after pointing out that his Cowboys had gone on to win two Super Bowls after plucking Chucky from San Francisco, Jones expressed the hope that "with Deion, we will win the next two Super Bowls."
Who could blame him for entertaining such heady thoughts? Prime Time was Dallas-bound! Could anyone possibly tire of discussing Deion?
Well, actually, yes. After the 49ers trounced the Atlanta Falcons 41-10 in the Battle of Deion's Former Teams, Jerry Rice flew into a frothing rage, ranting profanely at reporters whom he accused of having given Sanders too much credit at the expense of the 49ers' other defensive backs. Rice finally had to be led away by a team official, who claimed he did not need Thorazine to stabilize the temperamental future Hall of Famer.
Peppered with Deion-related questions at his own postgame press conference, Aikman could not resist pointing out that the Cowboys had been able to win two of the last three Super Bowls without Sanders, and that his presence on the roster does not necessarily make Dallas "a lock" to win the next one.
On this subject Aikman and Switzer, who do not always see eye to eye, are in agreement. Taking lunch at his desk after Friday's practice, the Cowboy coach said of Deion, "Well, he gives you a better chance, but that doesn't mean it gets done. It's how well you play the day you play." After allowing his interrogator a moment to mull over that profundity, Switzer offered an explanation of his team's early success. "The players know my style, they know who I am," he said. "We're through the transition. Our team has reached a comfort level."