Most people will never know the exhilaration of a major athletic achievement. Hell, the vast majority of the world won't even be able to say they failed miserably in a high-stakes, professional sporting environment. Pro athletes are statistical anomalies, human beings capable of so much more than we can dare to dream of—which is why we remain fascinated by the dual-sport athlete. It's hard enough to be elite at one discipline, let alone two.
Of the two-sport stars, Deion Sanders stands above them all. Unlike Bo Jackson and others, he did both on the same day.
On October 11, 1992, Sanders and the Atlanta Falcons played the Dolphins at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, and then he flew to Pittsburgh to be with the Atlanta Braves for their National League Championship Series game against the Pirates. It remains one of the most talked-about accomplishments in sports history, so when I got a chance to speak to Sanders, I had to ask him about 10/11/92.
"You're really on to something. You don't understand how brilliant you are," he says in his classically self-assured cadence. He's right about that.
Sanders tells me he's working on a documentary about the day in question, a film he promises will expose the "mistakes that were made by various people who will be named." The mistakes he's referring to are the ones that involved his flying all the way to Pittsburgh (first on a helicopter to the airport and then a private jet to Pennsylvania) and suiting up for Game 5 against the Pirates, but not playing a single inning of baseball.
As with any notable sports memory, the legend ends up superseding the reality. Ask a random person on the street, and chances are good they will assume Deion played in both games. "It's a huge misconception. A lot of people really got it wrong. A lot of prominent people with a microphone in their face, with a lot of power, really got it wrong," he says.
It clearly irks Sanders that he didn't get to step on the field at Three Rivers Stadium that night, as he admits much of his planned documentary will focus on who is responsible for his healthy scratch: "You have to ask yourself, 'Why?' There had to be something behind that." He won't say who because, master pitchman that he is, he's saving the reveal for his movie. "I won't disclose what was behind it, but it wasn't on my behalf," he says, shooting down the question in the classiest way possible.
Speculation abounds that then-Braves manager Bobby Cox was upset at Sanders for his decision to play both games that day, but attempts to reach Cox or other former Braves were unsuccessful.
The standard critique directed at Sanders by pundits at the time was that he wasn't taking either game seriously enough to pick one, especially considering the Braves had a chance to clinch the National League pennant that night. To this day, Sanders is adamant that he took his responsibilities to both teams seriously: "Both of them were important. Both games were important. It's a game. There's fans. There's teammates. There's family. Everything. Every time you compete, it's important."
His voice gets a bit sterner as he drags out the hard feelings he still has from 1992. In his mind, the Braves' playoff matchup wasn't any more important than an early-season Falcons game, but was it worth not playing in Game 5 just so he could be in Miami? "You have an obligation," he says. "Why wouldn't your obligation be worth it?"
Knowing that any attempts to get Deion to open up would be squashed as though my queries were one of the three tackles he made in the Falcons-Dolphins game, I asked him who was working on his film with him. Anyone notable?
"It's not like that. I'm not working with [Steven] Spielberg on it," he responds, slightly narrowing the field of potential directors. "It's gonna be something we'll be proud of." What Deion is most certainly proud of is his remarkable feat, even if it didn't include a crucial at-bat or a stolen base, which the Braves could have used in the 7-1 drubbing they suffered at the hands of Barry Bonds and company.
The Braves went on to win the series in dramatic fashion thanks to Sid Bream's iconic slide into home plate in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7. Sanders wouldn't try to do both again, though the Braves and Falcons would play the same day again during the World Series. Rather than travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers on Oct. 18, Sanders started Game 2 in left field in Atlanta.
Here's hoping Prime Time is planning to write and direct his documentary when that comes to fruition so he can do both one more time.