Deion Sanders is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame today, and for good reason. Love him or hate him “Prime Time” was always a reason to watch no matter if he was playing in Atlanta, San Francisco or Dallas (sorry Washington, but “Prime Time” was over when he was a Redskin).
How about this as an example – when Deion intercepted a ball in Super Bowl XXIX with the 49ers leading the Chargers 49-18, Ronnie Harmon had some pent-up anger to release on Neon Deion when he brought him down. So Sanders stood up and pointed at the scoreboard. (See here at the 9:05 mark. And then the replay at 10:30.) Yup, he showed up another player on the field. In the Super Bowl. That, my friends, is a guy who doesn’t mind showing off.
But while Sanders was a terrific player and deserves his spot in football’s hallowed halls and was a must-see talent, he is not the best must-see player in the Hall. He’s not even the best Sanders.
That honor must be bestowed upon the best player to watch whose bust resides in Canton – Barry Sanders.
Sanders is easily the best player ever to come through Detroit – in any sport – and was arguably the most exciting player to watch in football history.
He was the last player to make the Detroit Lions relevant and was the reason to watch football on Sundays.
What he was able to do was astounding: his ability to make guys miss, reverse field, break off 90-yard runs on the next snap – or even the idea that if you changed the channel you could miss watching him do that – was what made him Must-See TV long before Seinfeld and Friends were deemed so.
Plus, he was the reason any kid would choose to be the Lions in Tecmo Super Bowl.
What makes Barry Sanders so memorable is that he went out when he wanted to – not when we wanted him to. He rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in his final season, proving he was still was an elite back and one who clearly had some mileage left in him. But, playing in Detroit and never making the Super Bowl – or even out of the first round in four straight years – had to have taken a toll on him. He left the game when everyone else wanted to watch him play. That is why we have to rely on the following to truly appreciate him.
He didn’t turn into Joe Namath playing out the string for the Rams or Willie Mays hitting under .200 with the Mets. Barry Sanders didn’t turn into Emmitt Smith hanging on to break any records with the Cardinals.
No. Sanders will be remembered for being the most memorable football player to watch, rather than tarnishing his legacy on another team or playing until the game caught up to him.
He was “Prime Time” before Deion Sanders, must-see before Ross and Rachel and the most exciting player to watch in the last 30 years.