Deion Sanders is one of the greatest athletes we’ve ever seen. You know this already. He became one of the NFL’s few modern two-way players, once hit an MLB home run and scored an NFL touchdown in the same week, and once attempted to play in games in both sports in the same day, and all that stuff.
His legend began well before he was an NFL draft prospect, but everything he did at Florida State or in the pros remains verifiable. It’s the stuff at the mysterious, pre-TV combine that’s really taken on a life of its own and sprouted some quality nonsense, and Sanders (my favorite athlete ever) doesn’t seem to mind all that much.
1. He says he told the Giants, who were picking 10th, that interviewing him would be a waste of everyone’s time.
“It happened to be the Giants’ room. They set me down and gave me a thick book. This thing was thicker than a phone book,” he said on NFL Network during the last day of 2017’s combine. “I said, ‘What’s this?’ They said, ‘This is our test that we give all the players.’ I said, ‘Excuse me, what pick do you have in the draft?’ They said, ‘10th.’ I said, ‘I’ll be gone before then. I’ll see y’all later.’ That’s a true story.”
If that happened, then Sanders was right. He went No. 5, behind three other future Hall of Famers.
2. Leaving immediately after the 40-yard dash? He actually did that part.
I’ve linked to this about 17 times this week, but that’s fine. From Sports Illustrated:
One of the greatest early combine stories came courtesy of Florida State’s Deion Sanders in 1989. There was talk pre-combine that Sanders wouldn’t run the 40 at all; he later said he would take his medicals, run his 40 and go home.
“Deion gets up to the line and runs his first 40 and everyone has him at 4.3. We figured he was done. He gets up and runs another one, and he runs even faster,” said Gettleman, then a scout for the Bills. “Some people had him at 4.25 [officially a 4.27]. And the funniest damn thing about it was he finishes the 40, continues to run, waves to everybody, goes right through the tunnel and we don’t see him again. We all got up and gave him a standing ovation because so many of those guys wouldn’t run.”
These days, it usually gets embellished by most re-tellers to include Deion not just running off the field, but running into a waiting limo that took him straight to the airport.
3. If you want to believe Sanders ran it even faster than that while wearing atypical shoes (more on this in a second), that’s not a problem for Deion.
Sanders long encouraged an urban legend that he rode up to the 1989 combine in a limo, jumped out and ran the 40 in 4.2-something seconds — in street shoes. He insisted it was faster than Johnson.
That myth was exploded Thursday on live television when Sanders and former NFL team executive Charley Casserly revisited that moment in 1989. They are now teammates on NFL Network, but back then Casserly was with Washington and obviously kept precise records. He showed on TV the actual combine printout that showed Sanders’ two best times that day were 4.27 seconds, run in the usual combine garb, not counting Neon Deion’s standard gold jewelry of that time.
“I don’t even believe I stretched, you wanna know why? Because I never seen a Cheetah stretch before he go get his prey,” he said. “And I ran, I ran so fast I felt like I was floatin’ ... I felt like I was kinda coming off the ground ... and as I hit the finish line I could remember ... everybody was in disbelief. I just wanted the first person to say 4.2-something because I know 4.3 was not even in the factor.”
4. But his performance is the legend that keeps generating its own ridiculous sub-legends, thanks to the fuzzy records of the 1980s and his persona.
Look at these suggested searches, which Google shows because lots of people look them up:
Of all the legends associated with unseen NFL workouts — Bo Jackson’s 4.12! Rondel Menendez’s 4.19! Darrell Green evaporating into subatomic particles! — Sanders’ running-off-the-field story is the true story that already seems the most made-up and thus, once you find out it actually happened, the most fruitful for supplementary mythology. Look up any of those absurd claims about Sanders running the 40 backwards and in boots, and you’ll find people who appear to believe them.
The backpedal one sort of became real-ish in 2013, when NFL Network’s Leon Sandcastle character (Sanders in disguise) nearly kept up with a forward-sprinting Rich Eisen ...
... but that was years after Sanders’ alleged superhuman backpedaling had already become a meme. And that’s clearly not in the 4s, though he’s hardly going all-out or in peak condition.
Neon Deion has never been opposed to self-promotion, from the time he helped orchestrate an FSU rap song to the time he made a rap album in the NFL to his many non-musical stunts to the time he claimed in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech that he wore gold jewelry in order to provide for his family.
Here’s what we all must do now: try to convince someone on the internet that Deion Sanders crabwalked a 4.11 in the 40-yard dash at the 1989 NFL Combine while wearing a ghillie suit and wind parachute. Please spread this good news. It will make Deion happy.