Deion Sanders will become the eighth member in team history to be inducted into the club's esteemed Ring of Honor on Thursday night. This day will be a celebration of his career in Falcons red and black, but will also be about his impact on a franchise, a city and a sport.
I was fortunate enough to witness his greatness for all five years of his time in a Falcons uniform. To say he was special doesn't do him enough justice. His impact on the sports consciousness of Atlanta was profound. The imprints he left will be long lasting.
To score an electrifying punt return touchdown just five minutes into his first pro game only begins to tell the story. With all apologies to Dominique Wilkins of Atlanta Hawks fame, Sanders gave Atlanta its first true, dynamic and unique superstar of national importance. Quite simply, he raised Atlanta's sports profile to another level.
Deion's stats speak for themselves and are worth inclusion into the Ring of Honor on their merits alone. They will be recounted numerous times during the next two days by the media and I don't need to go there. But there are certain things that Sanders doesn't get enough credit for during his time in Atlanta that people should know about.
There has never been a fiercer competitor in Falcons history than number 21. I know that's a strong statement, especially since I saw every practice and game of the careers of tough guys like Jessie Tuggle and Scott Case — true warriors in their own rights. Let me explain why.
I watched Sanders practice like it was a playoff game numerous times when he was injured and should have been standing on the sideline instead. I remember one particular week where he had a bad leg yet he practiced hard, drill after drill, day after day, dragging his injured leg around going against another pretty tough competitor on the other side, WR Andre Rison. Neither one of these guys would back down and they pushed each other to be the best they could be. Deion suited up and started in that Sunday's game.
It was a display of pure competiveness at the core and it was a pleasure to watch. It showed me a lot about Deion as an athlete but more about him as a person. His God-given speed and quickness, as well as his overall exceptional athletic ability, were always evident and on display. But his competitive fire and zeal for the game of football have been undervalued and underappreciated.
Sanders knew other players looked to him for leadership. If he took a day off from practice, why couldn't others? That just wasn't his style. Every day meant something to him, whether it was a practice, a scrimmage or a game. It was another chance for him to hone his craft. It was another opportunity to be the best player on the field. I respected him even more from that one experience and I never forgot it.
Something else that people don't know is that Deion was also a team player and an excellent teammate. He was respected by his fellow teammates for how he studied before a game and how he performed on gameday. He was also well-liked by his teammates for the way he interacted with them inside the locker room.
Sanders loved to be around the guys. Whether it was picking on one player for his haircut or needling another because of the way he dressed, Deion was a guy you naturally liked and gravitated towards. He worked hard, he was genuine and he was the same guy every day. He just wanted to be treated like one of the guys. Those outside the locker room didn't see that side and most fans only knew him as "Prime Time" on Sundays. But if you talked to his teammates, you'd get another picture.
Deion Sanders was a rare, gifted athlete that my generation has been blessed to watch play a game he's loved since growing up in Fort Myers, Fla. I consider myself to be one of the luckiest persons to watch Deion mature as a player and more importantly as a person up close since 1989.
There is no higher honor for any Falcons player than what Deion Sanders will be afforded Thursday night. Falcons fans…please welcome your newest member to the Ring of Honor. Congratulations, Prime. You richly deserve it!