The University of Colorado football program over the years often contended for the Big 8 title. It was the home of great athletes like Kordell Stewart, Darian Hagan, Eric Bieniemy, Rashaan Salaam, Dave Logan, and Cliff Branch.
But it fell on hard times the last few years. Last year, they finished 1-11, lost their last four games by an average of over 30 points, and fired the coach.
Then they did something crazy. They hired a guy whose coaching experience was limited to several high schools, one of which was plagued by scandal, and then a historically black college that played second-division football.
But this new coach had some things going for him. He was a three-sport athletic star in college baseball, track, and football. In high school, he was also a basketball star. He became a solid Major League Baseball player and a star in the NFL — the only player in history to hit a major league home run and score an NFL touchdown in the same week. After retiring, he was promptly inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
He goes by several names. His first was Prime Time, which was given to him by teammates on his high school basketball team. Later in college football, they called him “Neon Deion.”
Yeah, it’s Deion Sanders. His players call him “Coach Prime.”
I confess I never particularly liked the guy during his playing days. His flamboyant style rubbed me wrong, maybe because I personally have never been flamboyant because I never had anything to be flamboyant about. I was wary about him becoming the head coach at Colorado.
Deion loves attention. As a player, he was charismatic, dramatic, and loud. He had a weakness for gaudy jewelry and dazzling suits. He cut a few rap albums. He was a commentator on NFL games and not shy about his opinions.
But he had an incredible athletic ability to back it all up.
He finally earned his college degree in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. About coaching, he has explained that each player is different and must be coached a little differently. I never perceived that awareness and sensitivity in, say, Bear Bryant or Tom Landry.
Perhaps relatedly, and perhaps not, he’s an unabashed Christian. He wrote an autobiography called Power, Money & Sex: How Success Almost Ruined My Life. He counsels with a nondenominational pastor.
Deion has formally mentored younger athletes and even tried to adopt one. About that one, Deion said, “He doesn’t have parents; they died. God put this young man in my heart. This is not about sports. This is about a kid’s life.”
Upon accepting the CU coaching job, Deion said, “God chose me; for that, I thank Him.” It sounds conceited, but I interpret it as humility — he implied that whether he earned the job or not, it was a gift from his Creator, as all else is in life.
If his Creator follows football or Deion, he must be pleased so far. Deion has opened the season with two stunning wins over last year’s national championship runner-up and then — drum roll — perennial rival Nebraska. After they trounced Nebraska, the long-suffering Buffalo faithful flooded the field, and Dieon told the on-field broadcaster that he loved the school.
Deion had a severe blood clotting issue in his leg after a surgery. It’s not an uncommon post-surgical complication, but in Deion’s case it threatened to cost him his foot, then his leg, then his life. Ultimately, he lost only a couple of toes, but it left him with a noticeable, permanent limp at just age 56. And he’s still not out of the woods. Maybe it’s a reminder of the precious life and miraculous talent God chose for him, and how temporal it all is.
He’s engaged with his sons, to the point that two of them followed him to Colorado and now play for the Buffs. In case you think these sons are beneficiaries of Hunter Biden-type nepotistic favoritism, know that the one who plays quarterback passed for about 900 yards in his first two games here.
Before the season at Colorado began, Deion exuded a confidence bordering on cockiness. “We’re coming,” he told skeptics. Yeah, yeah, thought the skeptics, that’s Prime-Time-Neon-Deion spouting off.
After the opening win, he said, “I told you — I told you, we’re coming.” After trouncing Nebraska, he said, “We’re coming.”
He’s here. And he’s still coming.
This article was originally published on the author’s Substack.