Former Aztecs a Hot Ticket : Warren, Dean Enjoying Their Homecoming

It's great to be back, but this is one homecoming that has a drawback.

Ever since Washington won the right to play Denver in Super Bowl XXII, Redskin players Don Warren and Vernon Dean have been getting calls from friends who hadn't been heard from in years.

Warren, a tight end, and Dean, a safety, are alumni of San Diego State, so their popularity temporarily knows no bounds. Everybody who once had as much as a nodding acquaintance with them has been asking for tickets to Sunday's game at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Obviously, most of the ticket requests have been turned down. But Dean said that not all of those rejected had taken it in stride.

"One guy wanted to jump down my throat if I didn't offer him tickets," Dean said. "He didn't understand how rough it is. After all, we only get so many.

"I sure have a lot of friends all of a sudden. But how can I complain when I'm in my third Super Bowl and it's being played in San Diego?"

Warren said the ticket situation was simply a matter of knowing how to say no.

"My tickets are spoken for," he said. "I've just had to tell the others I couldn't get any more."

Neither the Redskins nor the Broncos would reveal how many tickets each player had received. The National Football League office said that the allotments were left to each team's discretion.

Despite all the ticket requests, the two former Aztecs feel a sense of pride playing in the Super Bowl on the field they called home in their college days. Both earned All-American honorable mention at San Diego State--Warren in 1978 and Dean in 1981.

Like Dean, Warren is playing in his third Super Bowl. Both were with the Redskins when they beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena and when they lost to the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa. Also like Dean, Warren holds this "home" game dear to his heart.

"At the beginning of the season, I thought about the Super Bowl being here," Warren said, "Now it's like I'm dreaming."

Warren also is intrigued by a set of coincidences that he regards as a good sign for Sunday.

"There's something weird about this game," he said. "The year we won the Super Bowl, my wife Irene had a baby, there was a player strike, and Art Monk (Redskin wide receiver) got hurt. This year, Irene had another baby, there was another strike, and Monk got hurt again. I'm a very superstitious person, and I hope the game follows the pattern."

There is one pattern, though, that Warren would like to reverse. He caught a career-low seven passes in the regular season, plus one in each of the Redskins' NFC playoff games. In eight previous pro seasons, he had caught as many as 31 and no fewer than 15. For four seasons, he pledged $25 per catch to the American Heart Assn. in a program that raised more than $4,000.

"I wish they would throw to me a little bit more," he said. "Ever since '82 (a strike year), when I caught 27 balls in just nine games, my production has been down every year.

"I know it's not because of my hands. I've had a few drops, but if you look at my percentage, I've done pretty well. I have average hands, but I can catch the ball.

"Every time I come out of the huddle, I say to myself, 'This could be my time,' but I'm usually the decoy. My role is mainly blocking, and I do the best I can at that."

Warren's best is so good that Coach Joe Gibbs calls him "probably the most irreplaceable player" on Washington's offensive platoon.

"That's quite an honor," Warren said. "It has to do with the fact that I play so many positions. In our one-back offense (with two tight ends), somebody has to stay in and pick up the blitzes, and that's usually me.

"I do everything. I hit the end, I hit a linebacker. You name it and I've done it. I play fullback, halfback, wingback and tight end, and I go in motion. That's what makes it exciting."

Warren's running mate at tight end, Clint Didier, hasn't been overly busy catching passes, either. He missed three games this season because of a hamstring injury and wound up with 13 catches, plus two in the playoffs. In the three previous seasons, he had caught 30, 41 and 34, respectively.

"I envy guys like Todd Christensen (Raiders) and Kellen Winslow (Chargers)," Warren said. "Anybody who's a competitor would like to catch 80 balls a year and see his name in lights."

Winslow set a league record for tight ends with 89 receptions in 1980, and followed with 88 in 1981 and again in 1983. Christensen broke Winslow's record with 92 catches in 1983 and raised it to 95 in 1986. In a four-year stretch from 1983 through 1986, he caught 349 passes.

"I was like that at San Diego State," Warren said. "I caught 39 balls my senior year. I was the featured receiver, like Winslow at Missouri. He and I played in the East-West Shrine Game. I caught five or six passes and he caught six or seven. That was fun."

Warren, 31, attended Royal Oak High School in Covina and Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut before playing two seasons at San Diego State. The Redskins drafted him in the fourth round in 1979, and despite his low reception total, he considers that a good break.

"I was fortunate to wind up in a two-tight-end offense," he said. "Actually, it didn't happen until my third season (after Gibbs had replaced Jack Pardee as coach). Gibbs tailored his offense to his talent, and after we lost our first five games in '81, he went to two tight ends. That's when we started winning."

Warren estimates that he is a fullback on 30% of the Redskins' plays. Yet, he has carried the ball just one time, for five yards in 1985.

"To tell you the truth, I wouldn't want the ball as a fullback," he said. "Once this season, I had it stuck in my stomach by mistake. It hit my stomach and went right to the ground. Jay Schroeder recovered for a two- or three-yard loss.

"Blocking is my role, and I've just accepted it."

Warren has caught only five touchdown passes in his nine seasons, but one made a bit of history. It was the last one thrown by Joe Theismann, against the New York Giants in 1985.

"At least that makes me the answer to a trivia question," Warren said.

Dean, 28, found his way to San Diego State via Los Angeles High School, Los Angeles Valley College and United States International University. In USIU's final season of football (1979), he intercepted 10 passes. At SDSU in 1981, he led the Western Athletic Conference with six interceptions.

One of Dean's interceptions for the Aztecs broke the string of 152 passes without an interception by Jim McMahon, then of Brigham Young.

"I actually broke two of McMahon's streaks," Dean said. "I was also the last guy to pick him off before he started his big streak. I was like bookends.

"I liked to play against McMahon, because he had no respect for anybody. He never did. He's a good quarterback, though."

Dean has an impressive streak with the Redskins. He has never missed a game in his six pro seasons, playing in 86 straight. Still, he has had to deal with adversity, having been demoted to reserve duty this season after four seasons and part of a fifth as a starting cornerback.

"It's tough," he said. "When I get in there, I have to go 110%. Who knows? It may be the only play I'll get in for."

The Redskins didn't have a first-round draft choice in 1982, so Dean had the distinction of being their top draftee when they picked him in the second round. He replaced the injured Joe Lavender in the second game and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

After his fine first year, Dean was named NFL rookie of the year by Football Digest and ran second to Chip Banks of the Cleveland Browns, now of the Chargers, in the Associated Press poll for NFL defensive rookie of the year.

"I can't believe I did that well as a rookie," Dean said. "I was scared stiff. The truth is, I've had a lot more success in the pro ranks than I did in college. San Diego State wasn't national caliber, so I didn't get that much exposure, and to go to the Super Bowl my first two years as a pro was very satisfying."

Big plays were Dean's trademark when he was a starting cornerback.

In 1984, his best year, he intercepted 7 passes for 114 yards and a club-record-tying 2 touchdowns. One of his touchdowns, at the expense of Phil Simms, paved the way to a victory over the Giants. The other was against Joe Ferguson of the Buffalo Bills.

Dean also scored on a fumble recovery against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983.

Against the Chargers here in 1986, Dean picked off a pass by Dan Fouts in the end zone with the Redskins down by 11 points, and they came back to win. A knee injury sidelined him after that, but he started again in the playoffs and made a key interception against the Bears' Doug Flutie in a 27-13 Washington victory.

"I've had 21 interceptions (high for active Redskins) in my career, and my top thrill was my first one," Dean said. "It was against Danny White of Dallas, and I had another one in the same game."

Why did Dean lose his starting job to Barry Wilburn?

"It was a combination of a couple of things," Dean said. "For one thing, I'm not a burner. Safety is really my best position. Also, we went from straight bump and run to man-to-man, and that wasn't my game.

"I used to give a guy eight yards and then get in his face. The first year, I did quite well. The bump and run was sort of new on the East Coast. The following year, because I was too aggressive on my technique, guys started beating me.

"In '86, I had a horrible game against Minnesota. I was beaten twice for touchdowns. The week before, I got beat for a touchdown against the Giants. Those two weeks back-to-back influenced the decision to switch to Wilburn.

"That only lasted until the playoffs, but in training camp last summer, it was apparent that my services at cornerback were no longer needed. Now I'm a nickel back and a special teamer, pretty much of a reserve safety. It's not like it used to be, but I'm here."

That he is, along with Warren, and what better place could they find for their third Super Bowl?

"Being back in San Diego makes it extra sweet," Dean said. "It's just too bad we don't have more tickets."

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