Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders Headshot

Football Player • Baseball Player • Coach • Sports Commentator

Birth Date: August 9, 1967

Age: 56 years old

Birth Place: Fort Myers, Florida

Throughout the 1990s, Deion Sanders became one of most dynamic personalities in sports as a cornerback and kick-returner in the National Football League, a clutch hitter and base-stealing threat in Major League Baseball, and one of the most relentlessly self-promotional egos in either sport. Earning the nickname "Neon Deion" in his high school years and dubbing himself "Prime Time" during his college days at Florida State, Sanders was hailed as a singular all-around athletic talent and began dual pro careers with the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Falcons in 1989. He hit his stride on the diamond with the Atlanta Braves and, in the NFL, went on to consecutive Super Bowl-winning stints with the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys in 1994 and 1995 seasons, respectively. A perennial Pro Bowler as a defensive back, he became the rare modern-era star who played both sides of the ball as he expanded his game as a wide receiver with Dallas. After a late-career comeback with the Baltimore Ravens, Sanders shifted to the airwaves to become an outspoken analyst for NFL TV. One of only two NFL players ever to score touchdowns six different ways (interception, punt-return, kick-return, rushing, receiving and fumble recovery) and the only athlete to play in both the World Series and the Super Bowl, Sanders proved himself to be one of the most versatile talents of his era.

He was born Deion Luwynn Sanders on Aug. 9, 1967, in Fort Myers, FL, to Constance Knight, who raised him as a single mother. Growing up in a tough, drug-infested Fort Myers neighborhood, Deion channeled his ample innate energy into Pop Warner football during his grade school years. He blossomed into a multisport star at North Fort Myers High School, playing quarterback for its football team and becoming an all-state selection in baseball and basketball. His artistry on the basketball court earned him the nickname "Neon Deion," while his footballs skills garnered him a scholarship at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He started as a freshman cornerback, and the next spring both played baseball and ran for FSU's track team. Sanders earned a reputation for talking smack on the field but backed it up. He drew the first of three All-American selections in 1986, and two years later, topped the NCAA with a 15.2 yards-per-return average as a punt-returner and earned the Jim Thorpe Award for the best college DB. On the diamond, Sanders consistently hit above .300 and stole 27 bases in the 1987 season on the way to the team's No. 5 finish in that year's College World Series.

Not surprisingly, people started taking notice. The New York Yankees and the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the MLB and NFL drafts, respectively, in 1988 and '89. In an audacious move, Sanders decided to play both sports. He set the stage for a career of bombastic verve in negotiations with the Falcons by demanding an $11 million contract. He eventually signed for $4.4 million, the highest ever paid an NFL defensive player. Meanwhile, after a short stint in the Yankees' farm system, he was called up to The Bronx in June 1989. Sanders proved his merits to leery Falcons fans quickly: he became the first pro athlete to hit a MLB home run, fly out to join his football team and score a touchdown (on a 68-yard punt return) in the span of a week. After the Yankees released him in 1990, he simplified his life by signing with the Atlanta Braves, whom he helped to win a divisional title and, the next year, the National League pennant. Though the Braves went on to lose the World Series to Toronto, it was in spite of Sanders' eight hits for a .533 batting average for the series. In 1992, Sanders led the NFL by averaging 26.7 yards per kick-return and took two for touchdowns. He exploited his star power as one of Nike's highest profile ad shills and a periodic spokesman for other consumer products, and, in 1994, he released a rap album, Prime Time.

At the peak of his power, he signed with the San Francisco 49ers for the 1994 season. As a Niner, he snared six interceptions, three for touchdowns, and won that year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The 49ers went on to the win Super Bowl XXIX with Sanders contributing an interception to the effort. In the 1995 off-season, he and his agent initiated a much-hyped round of bidding for his football services. Sanders signed a seven-year, $35 million contract with Dallas, lured by a guarantee that he would see more snaps as a receiver. He went to his second consecutive Super Bowl, hauled in a 47-yard pass on the Cowboys' initial scoring drive, and garnered another ring as Dallas downed the Pittsburgh Steelers. With starting receiver Michael Irvin serving a suspension, Sanders started the 1996 season in his place while continuing to start on defense. He caught 36 passes for 475 yards on the season. In baseball, he bounced to the Cincinnati Reds for a time and turned in a standout season in 1997 with 57 stolen bases, but he suspended his baseball career after the season. The Cowboys traded Sanders to the Washington Redskins in 2000. He recorded four interceptions for the Redskins in the 2000 season, but decided to retire in 2001.

The Baltimore Ravens lured him back to football in 2004 as a nickelback reserve, which kept his playing time down by limiting it to passing situations. At age 37, he recorded his ninth career pick-six during the season. Upon retiring again in the wake of the 2006 season - with a career tally of 53 interceptions and 22 touchdowns, including an NFL record 19 non-offensive touchdowns - he hired on as an in-studio analyst with the NFL Network. In 2008, he and his second wife, model Pilar Biggers, opened their home and domestic life for an Oxygen reality show "Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love" (2008). The show scored big (for cable) ratings with its premiere episode, but, after its first season, Oxygen scrapped it. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Sanders in 2011. Deion and Pilar divorced that year, and the proceedings stretched into an ugly and public legal wrangle that, in April 2012, included Sanders pressing charges against Biggers for assault. The feud stretched into 2013 with a trial for custody of their children, highlighted by the couple's dueling bad-parenting charges, with Biggers contending Sanders used performance-enhancing drugs while Sanders made hay over her allowing their daughter to appear in a violent R-rated B-movie.

By Matthew Grimm

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