From The Vault: Me and Deion
OK, here is my version of Throwback Thursday. I'll just call it "From The Vault," and it'll involve me digging back into my files every Thursday to pull out some of my memorable pieces over 40 years as a professional sports journalist.
I'll tie it into current events.
This one involves Deion vs, well, um, me. We've had a great relationship over the past couple of decades. Our conversations are often deeper than deep courtesy of mutual respect, but our beginning was brutal.
In fact, NFL Films was in town earlier this week to tape me for an ESPN 30 for 30 on Deion Sanders in general and on his attempt in particular on Sunday, October 11, 1992 to play for the Atlanta Falcons that afternoon in Miami and the Atlanta Braves that afternoon in Pittsburgh during a playoff game.
The documentary will run in January.
IT TOOK A WHILE, BUT SANDERS IS MATURING AT 27
February 5, 1995
The Atlanta Journal Constitution
Some victims of the disease called arrogance aren't aware of the affliction. Others don't care. All move toward disaster. They become bigger than their hype, mostly because they've paved the way for such a situation. Then, when they've convinced themselves that they're sprinting to glory, they drop through a trap door, Jheri curls and all.
Terence Moore on Deion Sanders
September 15, 1989
The jewelry is still there, all right, but only by the pound instead of the ton. The voice is softer. The witty responses are wittier. And even though Sanders continues as Prime Time on the football field, complete with high-stepping sprints and Hammer gyrations, Sanders has dimmed the spotlight on his once insufferable act everywhere else.
It took a while, but Sanders is maturing at 27. In fact, the only trap door Sanders might drop through these days is the one leading to additional fame and millions.
In case you missed it, Sanders spent the past week as a late-night guest on Tom Snyder's television show. There also was Sanders' role as a presenter on the American Music Awards. In two weeks, he'll host NBC's Saturday Night Live, and did we tell you he'll start at cornerback for the NFC in tonight's Pro Bowl?
Suddenly, Deion Luwynn Sanders is huge. It partly goes back to Sanders' role during this past NFL season in pushing the San Francisco 49ers to last Sunday's world championship. Not only did Sanders spur the 49ers physically with his skills, good enough to earn Sanders the league's defensive player of the year honors, but Sanders did so emotionally by using his free-spirited ways to bring a dash of looseness to a traditionally rigid organization. He eventually became the only person ever to play in a Super Bowl and a World Series.
Add all of that to Sanders' flirtation with charm and his mighty partnership with Nike, and you have the foundation for something unprecedented. Only athletes named Ali, Jordan and Shaq have achieved this much this fast when it comes to national attention, and Sanders has the ability to go farther than them all.
For one, Sanders' football career is at its zenith. Since he signed only a one-year deal with the 49ers, he'll rank during the next few months as the NFL's most pampered free agent ever. He'll surpass the hoopla he enjoyed as a free agent last season after he left the Atlanta Falcons for the 49ers. There also is baseball, where Sanders has the potential to reach at least goodness someday with the Cincinnati Reds or whomever (try the Florida Marlins) after the baseball strike.
I'm not saying Sanders has arrived. There was his motor-scooter controversy involving that Cincinnati policeman, and after he left the Falcons and the Braves last year, many of his former teammates weren't exactly sad to see him leave the premises. Some even wished to give him a shove.
That said, Sanders has come miles since he arrived in Suwanee from Florida State and told reporters during his first press conference that they were either for him or against him. I was considered against Sanders, mostly because I often typed that his antics were detrimental to youngsters, particularly black youngsters. As a result, Sanders and I had a rather explosive beginning. There was even a confrontation between us in the middle of the Braves' clubhouse that resembled something from World Championship Wrestling. No blows were thrown, just sizzling words.
This eventually led to our three-hour lunch two years ago, when I spent most of the time telling Sanders he needed to change his image, not only for youngsters but for himself. When Sanders disagreed, I gave Sanders examples, ranging from his water dousing of announcer Tim McCarver during the '92 NL playoffs to his leaving the Braves in a huff near the start of the following season over a lack of playing time.
"I wasn't looking at the big picture," Sanders finally told me. "All I could see was that I was showing all the gangsters where I grew up back in Fort Myers that you could wear jewelry, dress nice and drive fancy cars without dealing with drugs.
"I don't drink, smoke, use drugs or cuss, but I wasn't able to see how that other stuff was affecting my image or impacting others. I think I've come a long ways since then."
That was the case then, and that's definitely the case now.