Deion Sanders doesn’t need an intro.
Rarely has there been a sensation, on and off the field, like the former Florida State three-sport star (1985-88). The Fort Myers native and North Fort Myers High graduate still knows how to play and sell the brand that is Deion Sanders, an original Prime Time performer, entertainer and tremendously gifted athlete who made big plays in big moments.
When legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden is asked to name the best athlete he has ever coached, he doesn’t hesitate.
“Deion Sanders, no doubt about it,” Bowden says.
Sanders was featured Thursday in the latest installment of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series. Entitled “Deion’s Double Play,” the show took an in-depth look how Sanders — the only athlete ever to play in the Super Bowl and the World Series — found success in the NFL, where he’s in the Hall of Fame, and in MLB. He made memories and history, once hitting an MLB home run and scoring an NFL touchdown in the same September week in 1989.
There’s only one Deion.
Twins Jason and Devin McCourty are interviewed by NFL Network’s Deion Sanders during Super Bowl Opening Night at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Art Stapleton, Staff Writer, @art_stapleton
Sanders’ legacy remains strong at FSU, where he honed his skills and realized that athletics could be used as a vehicle to bigger and better opportunities. He also made FSU a national landing spot for players, specifically defensive backs. He was electric. He was magnetic. He was one of the team’s hardest workers in practice. He was a song and dance man, too, R.I.P, Seminole Rap.
“He was a transcendent player that gave football some flash in college,” said Charlie Ward, who also ranks among FSU’s best two-sport athletes as a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback (1993) and starting point guard (1990-94). “His style created a buzz for FSU football and his talent was superior.”
Everyone, it seems, has a Deion story.
His athletic achievements, of course, are legendary and worthy recycling.
Like at the 1987 Metro Conference Championships, where he played in the Seminoles’ baseball game and then hurried to the adjacent venue and anchored the Seminoles’ Metro title winning 4X100 relay team. At Clemson in 1988, Sanders pointed to the Tigers bench and yelled “This one’s coming back,” moments before he returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown. In the Seminoles’ home finale against Florida in 1988, Sanders arrived at Doak Campbell Stadium in a stretch limo and in a tuxedo. Sanders and FSU played the part well, thumping the Gators, 52-17.
There are other stories, too.
Former FSU football equipment manager Jimmie Callaway remains close to Sanders. Callaway still chuckles about the time the pair went fishing and Sanders wasn’t having much luck with his expensive rod and reel. Sanders zipped to a local store in Woodville and returned with a 20-foot cane pole.
Former Seminole and NFL player Corey Fuller, the head coach at Gadsden County High, and Sanders are dear friends. Fuller said the pair talk four to five times a week and stay connected via text. Fuller understands that fans may think they know Sanders because of his persona. But he said Sanders is much more, sharing what he has learned with youth, relying on his faith and motivating the masses.
“He has a heart of gold,” Fuller said. “I think a lot of times people don’t see that side of him – he’s flashy and they hear his mouth – but he has a heart for people and mankind. He’s an awesome guy.”
Jay DeBlank has a story, too.
DeBlank was a student at FSU during the Sanders era in Tally. Ironically, DeBlank, 48, lives in Dallas, where Sanders resides in the outskirts of the city. After 30 years and three months – well after the statute of limitations has expired – DeBlank is coming clean.
DeBlank was the anonymous male who walked into FSU’s sports information office in October 1988 with an envelope containing Sanders’ stolen personalized license plate and a lighthearted poem asking for forgiveness.
“I didn’t want to get arrested,” DeBlank said and laughed.
Only the die-hard FSU fans may remember, but Sanders had his personalized license plate “Deion” stolen from his black Chrysler LaBaron convertible after FSU’s 28-10 victory over Georgia Southern on Oct. 8, 1988. Sanders made an appeal through the Democrat for its return, even offering an autographed football jersey in exchange.
DeBlank, a freshman at FSU, was at a local house with buddies when Sanders pulled up in his convertible at a home nearby. The fellas thought about walking over to meet Sanders, but possibly intimidated, they got cold feet. DeBlank instead put his nimble fingers to work.
“We thought about how cool would it be to bring back a memory of this almost happening, meeting a legend,” DeBlank said.
DeBlank lifted – he described it as “borrowed” – Sanders’ personalized license plate from the back of Sanders’ car. Though a prank by design, it also is a felony and conviction could include time in the pokey. Naturally, at 18 years old, being on the lam wasn’t DeBlank’s worry. He displayed the plate in his dormitory – room 320 at Broward Hall – and even had his photo snapped holding the tag.
Deion, of course, made his plea in the newspaper and word on campus began to spread that – whisper, whisper – had the tag. After a week, DeBlank figured the gig was up. He made an anonymous telephone call to the FSU athletic office and explained he might know the person who had Sanders’ license plate. He also asked about the best way to return it.
Pointed to the sports information office, DeBlank – still without providing his name – soon showed with the license plate and a note that was composed from individual letters from books and magazines that read:
For the best in the state
Here is your plate
It was only a gag
I’m returning your tag
Please don’t be upset
It was only a bet
With no intentions to harm
Here is your charm
So forgive and forget
There will be no more bets
DeBlank, hoping Sanders had a sense of humor, planned to meet with him following football practice. However, a nervous DeBlank left before practice ended. Sanders told the media he appreciated the return of the plate.
DeBlank, a native of Fort Lauderdale, nearly met Sanders years later at a South Florida restaurant. At that time, Sanders was playing MLB baseball for the Atlanta Braves. DeBlank said he got within earshot distance from Sanders, who was accompanied by a large crowd. DeBlank recited the first two lines from his license plate apology note in Sanders’ direction.
“He turned and looked at me a little puzzled but he was being pushed in a different direction,” said DeBlank, “That was the closest I’ve ever gotten to him to tell my side of the story.”
Sanders changed sports forever. He left an incredible impact at FSU and in Tallahassee. Honestly, his greatness may never be duplicated in these parts, or elsewhere.
It’s worth repeating a second time.
There’s only one Deion.
“Not only was he a phenomenal DB, there was so much electricity in Doak Campbell Stadium when he’d go back for a punt return,” said DeBlank, married with twins and a strategic supply chain leader at Maine Pointe in Dallas. “You always knew he had a chance to take it to the house.”