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Saleem Choudhry - Researcher
Saleem spends his days gathering, interpreting, and disseminating information about the game of pro football. He now shares in his blog some of the more unique stories and facts that he has uncovered while working with the Hall’s vast collection of more than 18 million pages of documents.
Class of 2011 enshrinee Deion Sanders’ penchant for flair and the dramatic earned him nicknames such as “Prime Time” and “Neon Deion” during his 14-year National Football League career. I contend that those nicknames are well deserved. As a cornerback, return man and occasional receiver, he always seemed to deliver. Deion scored an incredible 22 touchdowns during his career and most of them came in exciting fashion.
Let’s take a look at just his interception returns for TDs. Deion retired after the 2004 NFL Season with 9 career TDs which tied him for second in the NFL’s record book. The only man ahead of him at the time was Class of 2009 inductee Rod Woodson with 12. Glaringly impressive about all of Deion’s “pick-sixes” is that not one was shorter than 48 yards. In fact, he accumulated 617 yards on his nine TD returns for a staggering 68.6-yard average per return. The yardage total on those nine returns equates to 43 percent of his career interception return yardage total (1,331).
Below is a chart of all of Deion’s interception returns for a TD.
I find it interesting that five of the interception returns occurred in the fourth quarter and served as the final nail in the coffin against the opposing team (they were also the final score for Sanders’ team in each game). The interception against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 25, 1994 secured a victory for the San Francisco 49ers. The Saints were down 17-13 late in that game and were driving in hopes of a go-ahead TD or at the very least a game-tying field goal. Sanders’ 74-yard return with 32 seconds remaining put that issue to bed.
Deion Sanders had two INT returns for 90+ yards during the '94 NFL season.
The most impactful return (and longest), however, may be the strike Deion scored against the Atlanta Falcons a few weeks later when he picked off quarterback Jeff George and returned it 93 yards to help the 49ers to a dominating 42-3 victory. I remember a tremendous amount of animosity between the two teams due to that fact that Deion had shunned his former team to sign as a free agent with the 49ers in 1994. The Oct. 16th match-up at the Georgia Dome was the first meeting between the two teams since the Sanders and Falcons “divorce.” The tension came to a head in the second quarter when Sanders and Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison exchanged blows on the field. Shortly thereafter is when Deion delivered his career-long return down Atlanta’s sideline, all the while jarring at his former teammates and eventually dancing into the end zone.
Due to a retirement that did not stick, Sanders had a three-year interruption in his career from 2001 to ’03. I wonder how many more interceptions and TD returns he would have had if he suited up during those seasons.