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Football bookies work on trends, so the smart money says Deion Sanders will never justify the $56 million deal given to him by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. History shows that the careers of all the big-name Cowboys to come north in the 30 years since George Allen kick-started the franchise rivalry have gone south as soon as they put on the burgundy and gold. Every single one of ’em. Take a peek at what we’re condemned to repeat:
Duane Thomas The running back from West Texas State earned Rookie of the Year for the Cowboys in 1970 and helped the team to the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons. Thomas led the Cowboys offense with 95 yards rushing in a 24-3 razing of the Miami Dolphins to give Dallas its first Super Bowl title after the 1971 season. But his oddness and loose tongue—he called the legendary Tom Landry “Plastic Man” and Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm “dishonest, sick, and totally demented”—left him unwanted in Dallas.
Allen thought that by getting Thomas he could acquire the one player who hated Dallas as much as the coach himself did. Allen gave up a first- and a second-round pick to get Thomas, and that deal made waves at least as big as Deion’s recent transfer: Sports Illustrated put Thomas, in a Redskins uniform, on the cover of its Aug. 27, 1973, issue. Over the entire first season with Washington, Thomas gained just 95 yards—the same as his total from Super Bowl VI. His most memorable play here came on Thanksgiving Day 1974, when he was nailed for a big loss on third and short in the closing minutes of a game against Dallas. That gave a little-known Dallas quarterback named Clint “the Mad Bomber” Longley enough time to throw one more long touchdown pass and hand the Redskins a 24-23 defeat, generally regarded as the most crushing in franchise history.
Calvin Hill The Cowboys made the running back, a Yalie during the George W. Bush years, their No. 1 pick in 1969, and he nabbed Rookie of the Year and All-Pro honors and became the first player in franchise history to gain 1,000 yards in a season. Though he lost a couple of seasons’ worth of carries to injuries and Duane Thomas, all these years later Hill is still ranked fourth on the Cowboys’ all-time rushing list. His signing by Washington in 1976 spawned another round of hype: “The Redskins Shop for a Super Bowl: High Priced Newcomer Calvin Hill,” said the cover of Sports Illustrated, above a photo of the newest Redskin.
Hill didn’t even crack the starting lineup here, instead sitting on the bench while another Thomas—Mike Thomas—ran the ball. After the Skins released Hill during training camp in 1978, he understated: “Perhaps it was not a good decision for me to come to Washington. My career went down from that.” Although sports fans in Washington surely didn’t see much production from Hill on the field, his reproduction off the field proved quite a big blessing: Hill kept the family home in Reston even after getting axed by the Skins, so locals got to see son Grant play basketball at South Lakes High, where he blossomed into one of the best basketball players of his generation.
Jean Fugett Fugett went to the Cowboys in 1972 out of Amherst as a tight end. George Allen brought him here before the 1976 season along with Calvin Hill. Whereas Hill made the cover of Sports Illustrated, most of Fugett’s press came because he was a reporter—he actually took a job with the metro section of the Washington Post while still on the Skins’ roster. Unlike Hill, though, Fugett did have his moments in uniform, leading Washington in receptions for the 1977 season.
But the Redskins organization never took to Fugett. He was cut in 1979, with management painting him as a malingerer and an insubordinate. General Manager Bobby Beathard uncharacteristically and publicly ripped Fugett a new one after cutting him: “We had tight ends here who had talent and were willing to work hard to be NFL players,” Beathard said. “I wish he would have worked hard enough to have had a job here. But that’s not his nature.” Suddenly out of football, the malingerer got his law degree from George Washington University and went on to become CEO of Beatrice International Holdings, the largest African-American-owned corporation in the world.
Norv Turner 42-53-1. Enough said.
John Gesek In the 1995 preseason, Turner, the onetime offensive coordinator for Dallas, dumped Redskins veteran offensive linemen Raleigh McKenzie and Mark Schlereth to sign Cowboys center Gesek to a multi-million-dollar deal. As it turned out, Gesek came with back problems that would cause him to get essentially no playing time as a Redskin. After two seasons, it was announced that Gesek had a bulging disk to go with his bulging wallet, and he retired and collected on an insurance policy. Schlereth went to Denver for two Super Bowl wins and remains a star there; McKenzie played last season in Green Bay.
James Washington While in a Dallas uniform, Washington was occasionally as dominant as a safety can be. During the 1994 Super Bowl, he forced one fumble, returned another fumble for a touchdown, and had an interception as the Cowboys routed the Bills. Turner brought him here for $1.3 million in 1995, at which time Washington boasted he’d turn the Redskins defensive unit around. “Three and out, three and out is what we’re hoping for,” Washington said. Alas, it was one and out for Washington in Washington. He not only was toasted regularly by opposing receivers in his season with the Redskins, but also once got into a bizarre brawl with home fans at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium during pregame warmups. He’s now out of football.
Alvin Harper The wide receiver put up big numbers for Dallas after the Cowboys made him their top pick in the 1991 draft. He scored his first NFL touchdown against the Redskins as a rookie and became known for his TD celebration of dunking the football over the goal post. In 1994, Harper led Dallas in touchdown catches and led the league in yards per reception.
When Turner brought him here in 1997, the coach said Harper would open up things downfield for the Redskins. Alas, all he opened up was the Cooke estate’s coffers, nailing a $3.5 million contract with the Skins. Harper had just two catches, and no dunks, while with Washington. His tenure here came to an end near the end of the 1997 season when, in a post-game interview, he blamed his lack of receptions on Turner. “There’s been nothing but a whole bunch of lies,” Harper railed. He was cut the next day, and he proceeded to say his old friend the coach was “two-faced” and lacked backbone. Harper is now out of football and trying to hook on to the pro golf tour. If Harper’s play on the links is as consistently subpar as it was as a Redskin, Tiger Woods might soon have a rival.—Dave McKenna