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New to CU Buffs football? Here’s just how good Deion Sanders was in his playing career

Before he was Coach Prime, Deion Sanders was Prime Time – one of the greatest playmakers the NFL has ever seen, a "triple threat" on the gridiron and an accomplished baseball player, too.
Posted: 9:15 AM, Jan 16, 2023
Updated: 2023-01-16 18:33:58-05
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The University of Colorado at Boulder has been home to a middling football program for the better part of this century, but you wouldn’t know it from the renewed energy there this winter.

College football’s hype train has made a stop in Boulder after the hiring of Deion Sanders as CU’s head football coach.

The casual fan may well be asking: What makes Deion so special?

Well, there’s his instant success as a head coach at Jackson State, and the flood of recruits following him to Colorado. But the spectacle began long before he became Coach Prime.

Dallas Cowboys' Deion Sanders heads for the endzone as teammate Nate Hemsley (58) begins the touchdown celebration in the second quarter Monday, Sept. 21, 1998, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Cowboys' Kevin Smith (26) and New York Giants' Jeremy Lincoln (39) follow behind. (AP Photo/John Geilick)

First, he was Prime Time, a nickname earned during an electric and illustrious playing career with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.

The ultimate playmaker

Sanders is a Hall-of-Famer, widely regarded as the best cornerbacks of all time – perhaps even one of the best players at any position to ever play the game – and was a rare “triple-threat” who played on offense, defense and special teams.

He won back-to-back Super Bowls with the 49ers and Cowboys in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

Sanders intercepted 53 passes in his career. It’s an amazing stat, not because it ranks 25th in NFL history, but because opposing teams made a conscious effort to avoid throwing the ball his way.

Teammate and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Troy Aikman described Sanders to the Dallas Cowboys’ official site as “the only true shutdown corner I know,” and said Sanders would go weeks without being targeted.

The risk-versus-reward math just didn’t add up, thanks to Deion’s sure-handedness and unparalleled playmaking ability with the ball in his hands.

Of his 53 career picks, Deion took nine of them to the house – including five returns of more than 70 yards. He also returned a combined nine kickoffs and punts for touchdowns.

Sanders ranks fourth all-time in interception return yardage and second all-time in non-offensive touchdowns.

He even logged 60 career catches as a receiver, to boot.

Two sports in one day

Sanders was famously a two-sport player, playing a lengthy career in both the NFL and Major League Baseball.

Over nine years in MLB split between the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Red and San Francisco Giants, Sanders logged a respectable .263 batting average and stole 186 bases.

The sabermetrics fans among us will appreciate his career 5.5 Wins Above Replacement value, including a 3.2 WAR in 1992.

Deion Sanders,
Atlanta Braves Deion Sanders hits a two-run single during the Braves 8-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, April 20, 1994 in Atlanta. Sanders, who also in an All-Pro corner back with the Atlanta Falcons, has 24 hits, scored 15 runs, drawn eight walks, hit three home runs and driven in 15 runs as the team?s lead-off hitter. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Even with all of the remarkable statistics on both fields, Super Bowl wins and career accolades, though, no story quite sums up the legend of Deion Sanders quite like what transpired on Oct. 11, 1992.

He started at cornerback for the Falcons in a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, returning two kicks and a punt in a loss to the Miami Dolphins in Miami. After the game, he took a helicopter to the airport and a plane to Pittsburgh, where he suited up for the Braves’ National League Championship series game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Much to his dismay, he didn’t get into the game that night. He told Bleacher Report the decision to scratch him from the lineup was not his.

The Braves did, however, go on to the World Series that year, and Sanders recorded eight hits and five stolen bases in four games.