“I expect to be great. I expect to do what hasn’t been done. I expect to provoke change.”
– Deion Sanders
It sure has been shinier around here this last week or so, hasn’t it? Especially if you are a CU Buffs fan. The air is almost… sparkly…
Maybe there’s why. That incandescent human being is Prime Time, also known as Deion Luwynn Sanders, Sr., one of the more talented and magnetic athletes ever to grace a football field or baseball diamond. Mr. Sanders, er, Prime Time, has also translated that power of personality and depth of knowledge further up the bench to become a popular and highly successful football coach, which is what ended up bringing him to Boulder, anyway.
But let’s back up a second. Whether you’ve heard his name a million times, or just this last week, who exactly is this guy? His detractors will tell you the entire package is a mile-high pile of smoke, mirrors, and rainbows. His supporters will tell you he brings success to everything he touches, no matter the subject or trade. While the truth, as always, is somewhere in-between, Sanders long-term record suggests he leans much more to the latter than the former on that spectrum.
Born and raised in Fort Meyers, Florida, Sanders was a multi-sport athlete from his youth all the way through high school, lettering and making All-State honors in football, baseball, and basketball. The young man was already primed. High schooler Deion was such a gifted baseball player that the Kansas City Royals drafted him in the sixth round straight out of high school, but Sanders had other plans.
College took him about 400 miles up the road to Tallahassee, where Deion was still a multi-sport star at Florida State, excelling in football, baseball, and track. In his freshman year, Sanders already found himself as the football team’s starting cornerback, a starting outfielder for the fifth-ranked baseball team, and as a crucial part of the track team that won the Conference Championship. At year’s end, he’d be named a third-team All American in football.
That was just his freshman year. Prime.
The following seasons would bring several successes; two consensus All-American picks, bowl games, the all-time interception record for length (100 yard return) and the Jim Thorpe Award in football. Baseball would bring a batting average of .331 in his sophomore year, and 27 stolen bases his junior year. One sunny day in 1987, Sander played two postseason baseball games and ran a 100-yard postseason relay leg in track all in the same day. Both teams would win their Conference Championships.
So, you know… just your average every day athlete. Koff. *Primed*
While many/most collegiate athletes don’t end up playing at the pro level, Deion managed to be one of a handful of athletes to ever play more than one sport professionally, and one of even fewer to play more than one professional sport well. While his contemporary Bo Jackson may be held in slightly higher regard for his abilities in both baseball and football, Deion is still the only athlete to compete in both the Super Bowl and World Series, winning two Super Bowls in the process. Sanders also shared a couple of towns along the way, playing in Atlanta for both the Braves and Falcons, and in San Francisco for the Giants and 49ers. All told, Sanders played for five NFL franchises over 14 seasons and 17 years, and for six Major League Baseball franchises over a dozen years. While Prime Time’s work in baseball was always strong, he never made an All-Star team, but was named to eight Pro Bowls over his football career, along with six first team All-Pro selections, and two second team. He led the NFL in punt returns one season, and went on play terrifyingly well on both sides of the ball, one of the very few two-way starters ever to play in the NFL.
Whew. To say his career as an athlete was glorious and well-regarded would be an understatement. His career to that point would have been enough to make him a legend for the rest of his life and well beyond. Prime was primed to high-step off into the prime of his life. Sanders off into the sunset.
But that just wasn’t enough for Deion.
Sanders’ magnetic personality made him a natural fit for the world of entertainment even while still playing, trying his hand at an album and nabbing a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live. While his album didn’t make much noise, his music sensibilities and Falcons ties to MC Hammer actually landed him a spot in Hammer’s 2 Legit 2 Quit video. Those baby steps led him to a time as a pitch man for companies as varied as Nike, Sega, American Express, Pepsi, and more. Like so much of the rest of his life, Prime Time was a natural for primetime.
Which made it no surprise that as soon as he stepped off the playing field, he had suitors as an analyst for the networks. CBS won that first bidding war, and were the better for it for his few years there. His stints at ESPN, NFL Network, and more all had positive outside reviews, and Deion sprinkled that with more hosting gigs and pitch work, even with the odd acting gig here and there. Even with his athletic career at an end, Sanders was still keeping his dance card very full, and as always, with a variety of things to keep his multi-capable mind engaged.
But something more called to Deion. Something that blended elements of everything he’d done previously into a sum greater than its parts. While still in the midst of his television analysis heydey (surprise surprise) Sanders was also finding success dabbling in other things, this time as a mentor. First to young collegiate and high school players, but eventually – and surprisingly – as a coach.
“Surprising” wasn’t that coaching didn’t seem a natural fit, as the pieces all made sense. Surprising only that Sanders’ first coaching gig was as an assistant. In a women’s league. A women’s basketball league. Shockingly, but somehow unsurprisingly, the man of so many incredibly successful hats first tried his hand at coaching in a sport he had not played professionally, ever. A sport he’d actually stopped playing in high school.
But the ability to teach, give, mold, and mend appealed deeply to Deion, and was a part of what led him to found the Prime Prep Academy, where he served for its first few years as a head coach. He eventually went on to become a high school offensive coordinator, allowing him to coach his two sons during their high school years.
In 2020, Prime Time made one of the bigger sports news splashes of the year, accepting a head coaching position at prestigious HBCU Jackson State University. Not only did Sanders give the program an incredible boost in terms of name recognition and credibility, but shifted the program in terms of their arc as well, leading them to a 27-5 record during his three seasons, including an undefeated season this last year, and were also undefeated in conference play each of the last two seasons. Their play was decidedly prime.
And now, somehow, almost miraculously, Colorado Buffs fans find this multifaceted man (and his talented son, Shedeur) at the doorstep of flatirons football. Buffs fans everywhere want to know… Will Deion bring the level of success to Boulder that he’s brought to nearly every step of his life along the way? As Ted Chalfen brilliantly alluded to this last week, the news is so remarkable and earth-shattering, it almost doesn’t matter.
The hires have already started coming. The players have already started reaching out. While odds seem high that Sanders & Co. will absolutely raise the level of talent and play at CU once again, he’s already brought more sunshine, attention, intrigue, and debate than anyone in forever and a day… quick, name three of the seven coaches who have been through Boulder since Bill McCartney… Everyone except you, RK… And you, Jake. Okay, and you, Henry. But still…
What Sanders has already brought back to Boulder is the spotlight. Whether he and the program come screaming out of the gates or not, he will bring more talent, prestige, and attention to CU Football than it has had in decades. When it comes to attention, he already has. Here’s hoping that attention and scrutiny under those bright lights come with a story of redemption and new glories. Either way, those lights will be shining. Get ready, Colorado…
It’s Prime Time.