Deion's Smart to Make Football His Prime Time

Article excerpt

Bo Jackson teased us with possibility. He'd hit a 450-foot homer here or run 92 yards for a touch-down there, but he always ducked The Big Question, which was: How good would he be if he devoted his astonishing athletic ability to a single sport? And now we'll never know.

But with Deion Sanders, there's still a chance. The other day he announced he was putting away the pine tar rag for a while and concentrating solely on football this year. Of course, with Deion, it's never that simple. He's going to stick to football, yeah, but he wants to be a two-way player, too, a full-time player. No more cameos at wideout. No more decoy duty to draw coverage away from Michael Irvin. Deion wants to cover Jerry Rice, and he wants to be Jerry Rice.

The only disappointment is that he didn't come to this conclusion six or seven years ago. You didn't have to be a seamhead to see that Sanders wasn't going to become the next Rickey Henderson. About the only thing he ever led the National League in is "caught stealing." Leading the league in "caught stealing" is OK if you steal 60 or 70 bases, but it isn't OK if you steal 38, as Deion did the year in question (1994).

The most amazing thing - and this tells you everything you need to know about baseball these days - is that major-league owners kept paying him like he was going to become the next Rickey Henderson. He made $2.5 million last season to bat .268 and hit six homers for the Reds and Giants. Great work if you can get it. Deion was looking at a pay cut this season, though, a rather substantial one, and that made it easier for him to take a sabbatical from baseball.

Whatever it was that caused him to pledge his allegiance exclusively to the Cowboys - money, family, his sore ankle - we should all be grateful. In football, Deion is a great player, a potential all-timer. In baseball, he was simply a personality, a curiosity. There are plenty of guys who can do what he does on a diamond. Now, at long last, we'll get to see how singular a football sensation he really is.

After all, he's never gone through an entire NFL training camp. Baseball always got in the way. One year he spent two weeks in camp with the Falcons, but that's the extent of it. And he's still managed to make four Pro Bowls. Bo only made one. Besides, at his age, Deion needs training camp now. When you're 29, as he'll be in August, it's harder to go from shagging flies to chasing Cris Carter in the space of a week. …