On Saturday night, Deion Sanders made history. For the first time in the 45-year existence of the Falcons, a player originally drafted by Atlanta was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sanders will be enshrined in Canton in August, and longtime friend and Falcons public relations staff member Frank Kleha dissects what the honor means for Deion and the Falcons organization
Today, the entire Bird Nation and Falcons organization can beam with pride as one of their own receives the ultimate career achievement as Deion Sanders enters into the distinguished annals of Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sanders, selected fifth overall in 1989, becomes the first player ever drafted by the Falcons to be granted the highest honor anyone can receive in pro football.
It says something about the influence of a person when all you have to do is mention one name and instantaneously everyone knows who you are talking about. Whether it's Bono, Jordan, Bruce, Peyton, Shaq, or Sting, the name — Deion — fits into that same category. While the popularity of some of these one name wonders has waned over time (Madonna and Bo come to mind), Deion's name and impact on the game still resonates strongly today, especially among current players in the NFL.
There were two words that were invented to describe Sanders' unique ability to stifle wide receivers. They are words that are only uttered for the "best of the best" and were created exclusively for Deion. The words are — shutdown corner.
Teams would game plan to throw away from Prime Time's side of the field out of the utmost respect for his ability and fear for what would happen if they did not. Think about it for a moment. Consistently shutting down one side of a football field, week after week, is an incredible feat. That's a game changer.
In 14 seasons through 188 games, Deion thrilled fans with his blazing speed, cat-like quickness, amazing coverage skills, Houdini-like returns and entertaining gamesmanship. Prime Time loved to put on a show and he delivered.
Several other Falcons are hopeful to enter the Hall of Fame some day and are worthy of inclusion. LB Tommy Nobis, DE Claude Humphrey, T Mike Kenn, LB Jessie Tuggle and G Bill Fralic, among others, are credible candidates for future elections.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is an impressive and dynamic place to visit. I had a chance to walk through it several years ago on a road trip when we played at Cleveland. The Hall was opened in 1963 and more than 8 million visitors have passed through the gates since. The site of Canton, Ohio was chosen for a variety of reasons; namely the American Professional Football Association, which later gave birth to the National Football League, was founded in Canton on Sept. 17, 1920. Also, the area and state is steeped in football tradition as the Canton Bulldogs captured the first two League titles in 1922 and 1923.
Ironically, a 7-foot bronze statue of Jim Thorpe is the first thing you see as you enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame these days. Like Sanders, Thorpe was a gifted all-around athlete who excelled at many positions, particularly at defensive back. College football's annual award to the best defensive back in the country is named after Thorpe. Sanders captured the award as a senior in '88.
From one famous defensive back to now another, what a sight for Deion to witness as he glides (like only Sanders can) into the Hall of Fame this summer and enters into his own place in NFL history as a member of the class of 2011.
This original Falcon is flying into rarified air today and standing atop the pro football mountain. There is no honor higher for Deion Sanders.
Enjoy the moment, my friend. You so richly deserve it.