Aug. 6, 2009
Deion Sanders came through Tallahassee last Thursday with 80 youngsters from the greater Dallas area who are part of the youth football league he is sponsoring. He spent a couple of hours at the Moore Center and Doak Campbell Stadium trying to expose and inspire the youngsters, some of who come from challenging situations, to set their sights high.
In honor of the visit I thought I would share my five favorite Deion moments.
5. March, 1986, Tallahassee, FL — I’ll start with one that I confess I did not experience in person. Then FSU Sports Information Director Wayne Hogan was trying to figure out whom to put on the panel in front of the media at a press conference leading into spring practice 1986. He had five sure stars already placed but needed another defensive player.
Hogan talked it over with his staff and the discussion actually revolved around the fact that Deion was going to be a great player, but he was so skinny and quiet that they just were not sure he could hold his own in front of a room full of Florida media.
They decided to go with Sanders. Hogan stood in the back of the cramped room straining to see over TV cameras and reporters as they let loose with questions for the Seminoles. The energy in the room just seemed to zoom when Sanders began to extol his virtues to the uninformed. He provided notebooks full of quotes in just three minutes including suggesting that he wanted to become the best defensive back – ever.
Hogan broke into a knowing smile and a star was born.
4. May 16, 1987, Columbia, SC — As Will Ferrell said in Talladega Nights…”that just happened”. That’s how everyone felt when Deion Sanders cemented his legend at the Metro Conference Championships in 1987. The Metro would occasionally host the championships for all the spring sports over one weekend and in the same location and the University of South Carolina was the spot that spring. Deion was playing baseball and running track and the Seminole were in the middle of the Metro baseball tournament with a double-header facing them against Southern Miss in the morning and Cincinnati that night. As fate would have it, the dominant FSU track program was having a closer than normal run for the Metro Championship and a pivotal 4 x 100 meter relay would probably determine the conference champs. FSU track coaches had planned to run the relay without Deion, but knew they needed him and when it was clear that there was a chance Deion could run between games, they sent word to the USC baseball field to find Deion.
Here is where the “that just happened” moment came. Fortunately, the baseball field and track complex were nearly adjacent at South Carolina. Deion literally ran over to the track in his baseball uniform, jumped into a track uniform. Word spread to the baseball field about what Deion was trying to do and his baseball teammates climbed the outfield fence to what the race. Deion flew down the track managing to both receive and pass the baton perfectly and FSU won the race and secured the Metro title. Deion threw his baseball uniform back on and ran to the baseball complex managing to finish his day with a home run in FSU’s 6-3 win over the Bearcats that night.
That is a fact.
3. September 17, 1988, Clemson, SC – Okay for this one try to get a tape of the infamous Puntrooskie game. Any FSU fan worth his salt has seen the replay of “the” play 100 times, and probably has seen Deion return a punt for a touchdown earlier in the game only to get pelted with objects from the Clemson fans. But watch the CBS television copy of the punt return as Deion drifts back to receive the kick.
The TV camera zooms in as Deion turns to the Clemson bench and yells something while repeatedly nodding his head. The Tiger players snap to attention with indignation and Clemson coach Danny Ford’s jaw drops far enough for him to lose his chew. Deion, you can see if you look closely, is telling Coach Ford that “the punt’s coming back.” That’s right, his preseason ranked No. 1 Seminoles were embarrassed by Miami just two weeks earlier in their opener losing 31-0 and it appeared to all the world and certainly Clemson’s players and fans that they were in the process of making the mighty Seminole 1-2. Yet Deion has the (guts, audacity, nerve, inspiration, valor, rashness, chutzpah, gall, spunk, you pick the adjective) to essentially take the game on his shoulders and seize the moment as only he could.
2. November 26, 1988, Tallahassee, FL — Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that Deion was full of surprises, but his final home game took the cake even for those of us who thought we knew how far he would go. Let’s set the stage a bit. The Seminoles had won nine games in a row after opening the season with the stunning loss at Miami. An outside chance of a national title was still in play in the final regular season home game against Florida. This was a UF team with Emmitt Smith at tailback and a defense that came in ranked second in the nation.
Most everyone at FSU was a raw nerve by the time game day finally approached – everyone except Deion. With a Sugar Bowl bid, an outside chance at No. 1, you’re arch-rival, and the emotion that goes with a final home game looming, Deion hires a limousine and arrives at Doak Campbell dressed in a full tuxedo. You read it right! Parking lots jammed with fans of both teams and Deion pulls up to the locker room door in a black stretch, gets out in full tux and saunters into the locker room.
Final result…Emmitt 56 yards, Gator defense shattered, score FSU 52, UF 17.
1. Nov. 5, 1988, Columbia, SC — National television, naturally, had come to the South Carolina campus to bring the “showdown” between the Gamecocks and Seminoles to everyone. This game may have done as much as any to hang the awful tag of USC being an impossible place to win the big game. The Gamecocks had a swarming defense and their crowd was convinced that they would take the 6-2 Seminoles to the proverbial woodshed given a quarterback named P.T. Willis would get his first career start in the game for an injured Chip Ferguson.
Willis and FSU proved a nightmare for the USC fans packed elbow to elbow. He hit Terry Anthony on a demoralizing 44-yard scoring bomb on the second play of the game and it was off to the races for Florida State. It was 31-0 at the half and newbie Willis took a seat at the end of the third quarter.
It was during this long time out that Deion made even the frustrated home fans laugh. He climbed onto the bench, turned to the partisan yet horrified USC fans and began to yell at the top of his lungs, “Demand your money back, this is ridiculous, you need to leave now and demand a refund.” Embarrassed chuckles turned to guffaws of laughter as folks passed word of what Prime Time was saying. Eventually a teammate handed Deion a cheerleading megaphone so he could implore even more in the crowd.
I’ve never seen so many disheartened fans laughing in my life.