Neon Deion’s buffs are a bust

Marc Elliott

LARSMONT – I had first heard of him back in 1985 when word was getting out about a three sport-all-state athlete who was getting some spectacular amounts of college recruiting attention. It's a big deal to be an all-state athlete in one sport, but three? That's off the charts. This individual excelled at football, basketball and baseball.  

Around that time he was also named to the Florida State All-Century team in football hailing from Fort Myers High School. While he was drawing a lot of interest in football many baseball scouts had him on their radar too.   

Deion Sanders would go on to play football for the great Bobby Bowden at Florida State, he was also on a baseball team there that was 5th in the country and in his "spare" time he was also on the track team. But it was becoming increasingly clear that football and baseball were his two sporting loves. The football calendar didn't have too much competition for Sanders' time, he wasn't playing hoops at FSU, but the baseball and track seasons had some occasional conflicts, and I would encourage you to do some research on that part of his life.  

As members of the Metro Conference in baseball and track there was a year when the season-ending Conference Championships were taking place. Both events were being held in Columbia, South Carolina. So as the story goes, Sanders played in the Conference semifinal baseball game, (FSU won) then went to the other side of town and ran in the 4X100 relay event and went back to the baseball stadium to help his team win the Conference baseball title. While he didn't advance with the track team, they did win the overall team Championship. Is that amazing? Not if you understood how remarkable of an athlete this guy was.  

As Sander's legend grew his old football coach Bowden would say that his athletic abilities would lead him to use his talent as the standard that he would measure all players against whether they were recruits or already on his squad. After watching him play in MLB and the NFL I can only say that in my 60-plus years of watching both, Sanders is probably an easy top ten selection for the best athletes of all time, and quite likely belongs in the top five. He had it all, running ability, hand-eye coordination and on a football field, an ability to shift directions in a millisecond and leave opponents trying to tackle air. And once he got away from pursuit and had the ball, you weren't catching him. You could dream you were going to, but no, not a chance.  

I must add that when he first came on to the college scene I thought he was a cocky, braggadocious overinflated knucklehead. And that opinion of him would go on for several years. But truth be told I never lost sight of what I was viewing on the fields of play. I'm pretty sure I couldn't count how many baseball and football tilts I've seen over the years, but I can tell you how many athletes I've seen that were at Sander's level. It's a pretty short list.  

There was at least some minor amount of conflict in his career especially in baseball where old-timer veterans had their eye on younger player's every move. In one game with Sanders Yankees playing the White Sox, veteran catcher and Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk chastised Sanders for drawing a dollar sign in the dirt near the batter's box and then not running out an infield pop fly out, running right for the dugout instead. Fisk yelled at Sanders that he was a "piece of s***."

Before Sanders next at bat he told Fisk that the "days of slavery" were over.   Fisk was furious and would later tell a reporter that there was nothing about his remark that had anything to do with race. He said Sanders disrespected the game by not running out the fly ball. He said that "there is a right way and a wrong way to play the game."

I can't disagree. That's the way I was taught to play. But most of Sander's careers were without much controversy. He played his sports and did that better than most and was a gentleman. After some hell-raising in his younger days he became extremely religious and is to this day.  

I would eventually come around to view him as one the most extraordinary persons in sports I had ever seen. All told he interwove ten-plus seasons of playing in MLB and the NFL. He is the only player in sports history to play in a World Series and a Super Bowl. When he retired he was a two-time Super Bowl Champ. Oddly enough he is not in either sports Hall of Fame.  

Fast forward to around 10 years ago. That's when he began to dabble in coaching. He started at a High School as a position coach in football and went from there. In 2020 he became the Head Coach at Jackson State University and went 27-6 in 3 seasons. Last December he was named the Head Coach at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He created some immediate furor when he stated that the team would begin his first season with a totally new roster. When questioned about that he said "This team went 1-11 last season and those days are over." Fair enough. He followed through on that because the bulk of that roster was not with the team when this season began.   

By this time Sanders had my rapt attention. He was straightforward and wove his faith and directness about becoming a Champion together in a folksy kind of way that was endearing, at least to me it was. He went on to purge any remnants of the previous season's team disaster and went on a recruiting blitz. Some players from JSU transferred to stay with him and Sander's own two sons would become integral parts of this year's Buffaloes team.

The buzz created by Sander's arrival in Boulder gave the team an early wave of energy that propelled them to three straight wins before the realities of Division One football hit home. They have gone 1-5 since.  

I have to temper this by understanding that it can take a new coach up to three seasons to get his plan and roster fully in place. On the other hand I see Sanders trying to be a coach-friend-father to 115 young men. While admirable, is that possible?  

I see a few players on this squad who seem to be fully distracted by newfound NIL (name-image-likeness) wealth. Sander's own son, the quarterback Shedeur, reportedly has a $200k vehicle and a $35k wristwatch. I beg you to tell me where this kid's focus is. Football or bling?  

I've seen them play five times this year and in one of the tilts they were waxed 42-6 by a team that played like one. (Oregon) Based on his own preseason bravado I expected more from Deion's club. I feel that he'll be okay in time, but he has some "stuff" that needs to be reined in, starting with himself ... PEACE