Usain Bolt is ungodly fast, but he’s not Prime Time. Albert Pujols can tear the seams off a baseball, but he’s not Prime Time. Darrelle Revis can shutdown a receiver, but he’s not Prime Time. To put it simply, Deion Sanders is our modern day Jim Thorpe.
It’s tough to encompass what exactly makes Sanders so great, but let me give it a shot. I think to tell his story you actually have to start with his prowess on a baseball diamond.
It is said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sport. Every season hundreds of ballplayers take their hacks in the Bigs and thousands more toil away in the Minors. Most will not be considered anything more than an afterthought, if that.
Sanders was a part-time ballplayer. His true calling was football, but even only playing half a season Sanders was one of the most electrifying players in baseball.
There have been numerous cross-over wannabes, but none where as successful as Sanders. Prime Time played nine MLB seasons and finished with a .263 lifetime average, a .319 lifetime on-base percentage and stole 186 bases in addition to playing a solid centerfield.
Those are hardly gaudy numbers, but those are the stats of a part-time player who was coveted by the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds. In his lone World Series appearance, he played in four games and was 8–15 with two walks at the plate. He also stole five bases and was never caught stealing on the base paths.
Too much of Sanders’ legend is in regard to his flashiness…his out-right cockiness. And that is as much by his own design as it is media hype.
Today Sanders will rightfully be enshrined into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But I feel it to be necessary to remind everyone how great of an all-around athlete he truly was.
But it is fair to say that Neon Deion was at his scintillating best on the gridiron. Many will remember him on those all-time great Dallas Cowboys teams, or when he helped Steve Young get that monkey off his back in San Francisco. But for me, Prime Time was, and will always be, an Atlanta Falcon.
Sanders was in Atlanta for only five seasons; and even though those were terrible squads, they were fun as hell to watch. You had crazy-ass Jerry Glanville coaching the team—this is the same man who would leave tickets for Elvis Presley before games at will-call. Catching the ball was Andre “Bad Moon” Risen and the speedy Michael Haynes—when they did score, it was usually going deep. Hell, even a young Brett Favre was holding a clipboard on that team. They weren’t good, but they were endearing.
Even though Sanders only made the playoffs once while in Atlanta, you can’t blame that fact on Prime Time. Sanders is, hands down, the greatest cornerback that has ever roamed a football field. Detractors always bring up the fact that he couldn’t tackle a five-year-old boy. Fair enough, but that’s not a corner’s true job.
Give me a corner that can line up against the other team’s best receiver and absolutely make that receiver impotent, over a good-tackling corner. Tackling is why you have safeties and linebackers.
There has never been a corner like Sanders. Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha are brilliant shutdown corners, but they aren’t in Sanders’ league. Coaches told their quarterbacks to never throw at Sanders, because if Prime Time got his hands on the rock there was a good chance he would take it to the house.
Of the last 25 years, Deion Sanders is the greatest athlete I’ve seen. Bo Jackson was right there, but his career was cut too short in the NFL. Guys like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky were brilliant, but they were great only in basketball and hockey, respectively.
Sanders literally had days where he would go and return kickoffs and punts—where 250-plus pound men would come charging directly at him—all while running hundreds, if not thousands, of yards while covering the other team’s best receiver, and would then get in a helicopter and go hit a baseball.
Don’t let the glitz fool you: Sanders was the epitome of power and skill.—Anthony Malakian