Gold Jacket Spotlight: Deion Sanders’ multiple fields of dreams

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 2/12/2024
Once described as “Jim Thorpe of the latter 20th century in a lot of ways,” DEION SANDERS played “the two sports we want to succeed at as kids,” ESPN’s Chris Berman said.

Deion’s success on the gridiron and baseball diamond are examined in this week’s Gold Jacket Spotlight.

After turning down an offer he received during his senior year of high school from the Kansas City Royals to play baseball, Deion chose to attend Florida State University, where he excelled in football, baseball and track.

“When he came out for baseball his freshman year, he didn’t really understand what Florida State baseball was all about. The next year, this was 1987, and he led us to the College World Series,” offered former FSU baseball coach Mike Martin in the ESPN Deion Sanders “SportsCentury” documentary.

In a “Beyond the Glory” film, Seminoles football coach Bobby Bowden shared, “Our track coach asked him if he would come and run in one of our meets. So, he goes there, runs in a meet and whips world-class sprinters.”

Bowden was the beneficiary of Deion’s decision to focus on football and the defensive back’s creation of the “Prime Time” marketing plan while at Florida State.

“He was not just a cornerback, he was an entertainer,” Deion professed while discussing the Prime Time persona he launched from his dormitory room.

Bowden observed, “He was a players’ dream. Players loved him to death, and so did the coaches.”

NFL scouts had an appreciation for Deion as well, and the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the opening round of the 1989 draft as the fifth overall pick.

Prime Time arrived early in Deion’s Falcons career as he returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of his NFL debut.

“He focused more attention on the Falcons in a positive way than anybody could have imagined at the time for such a down-trodden franchise,” said Ed Werder of the Dallas Morning News.

When Deion, also a left-handed hitting centerfielder, wasn’t occupied by helping the Falcons improve their fortunes, he was playing professional baseball. 

Prime Time entered Major League Baseball, and his baseball journey included playing for four franchises in an 11-year career.

Former NFL Director of Football Operations Gene Washinton, noted, “There are people that can carry off the great athletic accomplishments, but to pull it off in a show business way — where he tells you he’s going to do it — very few that can do it.”

Atlanta Braves General Manager John Schuerholz observed, “I knew Deion was a naturally talented athlete who could have played baseball very well for a very long time if he wanted to.”

After leading MLB in triples in 1992, the summit of Deion’s two-sport effort might have occurred that October. Deion was with the Braves in an NLCS game in Pittsburgh on a Saturday evening, played for the Falcons in Miami that Sunday afternoon and returned to Pittsburgh following the Dolphins contest for Game 5 of that playoff series. 

The Braves won the series, propelling them into the World Series.

Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz, the MVP of that series, professed, “To play two sports in one day has got to be a dream. You can’t even think that’s possible, and because it was the playoffs, it was possible.”

Deion’s football excursion continued to San Francisco, playing for the 49ers in 1994, followed by a move to Dallas in 1995. Those shifts resulted in back-to-back Super Bowl titles for him and recognition as the first athlete to play in a World Series and a Super Bowl.

In 2011, Prime Time landed in Canton for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.