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Redskins Legacy: 'Slick Rick' Sanders

Posted Dec 13, 2013

For two years in the mid-1990s, a wide receiver named Ricky Sanders played for the Atlanta Falcons, the Washington Redskins’ opponent on Sunday.

For two years in the mid-1990s, a wide receiver named Ricky Sanders played for the Atlanta Falcons, the Redskins’ opponent on Sunday.

He caught 67 passes for 599 yards and one touchdown in 1994, before seeing limited action in 1995 and retiring from the game after 10 seasons.

Sanders’ stint in Atlanta is just a footnote in his memorable career, the first eight seasons of which were with the Redskins.

A frequent guest on the highlight reels, Sanders caught 483 passes for 6,477 yards and 37 touchdowns in D.C., some of the best stats in team history. 

Most of his production came when he was part of the Redskins’ dangerous wide receiver trio of the late 1980s and early 1990s known as “The Posse.”

Sanders was more fluid than his Posse comrades Art Monk and Gary Clark.  He also was more finesse-oriented but “brilliant at it,” said Redskins Hall of Fame receiver Charley Taylor, Sanders’ position coach in Washington.

“He was one of those guys who can run 60-yard patterns and their head never moves,” Taylor said.  “I call them burners.”

The 5-11, 180-pound receiver caught balls on all kinds of routes but electrified Redskins fans the most when hooking up with quarterbacks on the deep pass. 

He was gifted, too, at gaining chunks of yards after a reception.

“He was a running back before he became a wide receiver, so he had a little more trickery in him,” said former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, who played with Sanders for four seasons.

This season, the Redskins honored their Super Bowl XXII team, which destroyed the Broncos, 42-10, on Jan. 31, 1988, the team’s second Super Bowl win in the Joe Gibbs-1 glory era.

Sanders and Williams both starred for the Redskins that day, sparking their historic 35-point second-quarter explosion. 

With the Redskins trailing, 10-0, the two hooked up on an 80-yard catch-and-run.  Sanders scored on a 50-yard bomb later in the quarter. 

In all, he set a Super Bowl record with 193 receiving yards and tied another one with two scoring catches.

Sanders, who caught nine balls that day, said he had a special connection with Williams from the time the two became teammates on the Redskins in 1986.

“The chemistry was instant,” Sanders said.  “He loved throwing the ball to me.”

Sanders played tailback at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) and finished as the Bobcats’ third all-time leading rusher (2,471 yards). 

He also displayed a talent at catching passes out of the backfield and from the slot position.

After college, he signed with the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League. 

Head coach Jack Pardee (a former Redskin linebacker and head coach) and offensive coordinator Darrel “Mouse” Davis converted him to wide receiver.

Sanders thrived in the Gamblers’ innovative run-and-shoot offense, where wide receivers are spread all over the field. 

He caught 101 passes for 1,378 yards and 11 scores in two seasons in Houston while playing with quarterback Jim Kelly, who later crafted a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Redskins zeroed in on Sanders.  After the USFL folded in 1986, he reported to the Patriots, who had picked him in the 1984 supplemental NFL draft.  

But Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard planned to swipe him away.  He traveled to meet with his New England counterpart, Dick Steinberg, and hoped to acquire Sanders through a trade before he took the field for the Patriots.

“They hadn’t started training camp yet, and we were hoping they wouldn’t see him in uniform at their place,” Beathard said.  “We wanted to get him before any of that took place because if they see him and do everything with him, they won’t want to trade him.  They obviously scouted him in the USFL.  

"I was willing to trade for him before they ever timed him.”

The Redskins traded a third-round draft choice for Sanders, who saw limited action in 1986, although he showed convincingly why Beathard was so interested in him; his first NFL catch was good for 71 yards.  

He hit his stride after he replaced an injured Art Monk for a few weeks late in the 1987 season.

Looking back, Sanders said playing in the USFL in the run-and-shoot helped him transition to the Redskins’ three-wide receiver alignment, “The Posse.”

“That was a great offense that Gibbs had, and it was pretty similar to the run-and-shoot,” he said.  “Some of the patterns were pretty similar, and you had an option on your routes.  You could run a fade or a hook.  It all depended on the coverage.”


Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault.  His web site is redskinshistorian.com.  Check out his Facebook Friend and Fan pages and follow him on Twitter.

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