MIAMI — Fishing. Deion wants to go fishing. As soon as he’s done with this annoying army of international media, he wants to hit the water, bait the hook, reel and cast. Or is it cast and reel? What’s the difference? Deion will make it up as he goes along.
“When I retire that’s all I’m gonna do. Fish, fish, fish. I’m gonna know every fish in my lake by name. I’m gonna say, ‘Look, there goes Bubba the fish.’ “
“Will you have your own fishing show?” someone yells. “On ESPN?”
“Yeah. And if not ESPN, I’m sure ESPN2 would accommodate me.”
“Hey, Deion. What’s your biggest catch so far?”
“An 8-pound bass.”
Wrong. His biggest catch so far is right here in front of him, hundreds of reporters, broadcasters and cameramen gathered around his Super Bowl podium. Reel and cast. Pull them in.
It is not every man who can name a fish Bubba. But then, not every man is Deion Sanders. Not every man plays two pro sports, cuts a rap record, takes a pay cut to reach a million a year and arrives for opening day of Super Bowl festivities wearing a Nike visor turned backwards and upside down, so that the bill sticks up behind his left ear. He looks like you could turn him over and scoop french fries.
Prime Time at the Prime Ticket. The Most Hyped Player at the Most Hyped Event. It’s like hydrogen meeting oxygen.
“Deion? Did you really buy a Lamborghini?”
“Yes. It’s a present from me to me. I made out the card, ‘Merry Christmas, from me to me.’ “
“Deion! Critics say you don’t like to tackle.”
“Hell, no, I don’t like to tackle. They don’t pay me to tackle. That’s what linebackers are for. I’m here to knock down passes, run back interceptions and dance.”
“Deion! Will you play for the 49ers next year?”
“I would love to play for the 49ers next year. . . . But I sacrificed a lot to play here. I’m playing for a million dollars, OK? Next year, I WILL NOT BE playing for a million dollars, let’s get that STRAIGHT.”
He smiles. “We may just have another off-season tour.” The birth of Prime Time
It was one of those tours — the free agent kind — that landed Deion with the 49ers in the first place. He shopped himself, turned down three times as much money from his old losing team, the Falcons, to sign with winning San Francisco, the best bet to reach the Super Bowl. A gamble for glory.
And now, here he is, five days from a championship, something that, despite all his noise, Sanders has never won, not in college, not in baseball (he did get to a World Series once with the losing Braves) and not in the NFL.
If the 49ers win, as predicted — and Deion has a big game, returning kicks, knocking down passes, whatever — well, even the sky could be too big a limit for his image.
“If we win, I look like the smartest guy in the world, don’t I?”
At least one of the most clever. Make no mistake, he may dance like a marionette and bejewel himself like a treasure chest, but Deion Sanders, 27, is a bright young man. He may not be able to tell you where Liechtenstein is on a map, but he can point out the quarterback, the running back and the defensive back, and he can tell you that the first two get rich and the third gets forgotten — unless you turn it into a character.
Deion Sanders did.
“I sat down and said, ‘What do I have to do to make enough money to build my mother her dream house?’ Bing! ‘Prime Time’ was born.”
From as early as high school he was toying with nicknames, and by the time he reached Florida State, he was a legend in his own mind. This is a guy who used to wear as many as eight gold chains at a time, who once showed up for a college game in a stretch limo and white tuxedo, who, when drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, arrived at the airport, grabbed a microphone and said, “It’s
five minutes to eight, and the thrill is here!”
Low key is not an issue.
His childhood hero, Lester Hayes, once said of Sanders: “He is destined to spend some time in a penitentiary.” Deion gave him up as a hero. He will not be dissed. He will simply go on.
“Look,” he said Tuesday, in a suddenly lucid moment, “where I come from
(Ft. Myers, Fla.), the drug dealers were the heroes. They wore the gold, the jewelry, they were looked up to. What I did was take all that but show that you can do it for a positive goal. To be an athlete.
“In the inner city, it went over well, I was a king. But in white society, I was looked upon badly. I understand that. I won and I lost. . . .
“A lot of people aren’t ready for someone like me, a cocky young black man who speaks his mind. A lot of players aren’t honest with you (media) guys. .
. . I’m the same guy all the time. I shoot straight. I don’t lie. I live what I say.”
Of course, this is the same guy who once said he was two different people.
Neon or nice?
The truth is, Deion — who gets turned on by the big spotlight, but annoyed with the little ones — really is a hybrid, a defensive player who wants to play offense, a tackler who doesn’t like to tackle, a glory hound who wants a team championship. He will, for example, give a passionate defense of his celebrating, saying, “I don’t taunt anyone. I don’t rub it in. I’m just having fun.” But the fact is, he made a career of taunting at Florida State — yelling to the opposing team, “This one’s coming back on you” — and that skirmish he had with Atlanta’s Andre Rison this season wasn’t exactly kiss and hug.
Or he says, “All I want right now is that ring, I don’t need to be the star.” But in the next breath, he’s talking about how much money it will take to keep him here.
So which is the real Deion, the Lamborghini or the fishing boat? Both. A man’s image should equal his shadow, and Sanders — the first man to play in a World Series and a Super Bowl — has made sure he casts a very large shadow. He dances, he talks about his mom, he compliments Steve Young, he rips Michael Irvin. He scolds the media, saying, “You don’t know me,” but when someone yells out, “If we knew you, would we like you?” Sanders smiles.
“Hell, yeah, you’d like me. You’d want to go fishing with me.”
“Can we go with you today?”
“Sure. Y’all got rods?”
Who needs rods? We just lean Deion over the side of the boat and let him charm the fish right out of the water.