Neon's brighter than you think
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

So you're saying what, pilgrims -- you can't envision Deion as coach of the Atlanta Falcons? You can't envision Deion in a stingy-brim hat, tight-lipped, stoic, arms folded across his chest a la Tom Landry, or yelling "What the hell is going on around here?" like Lombardi stalking a sideline? Or throwing fists, crying and kissing everybody in sight, like Dick Vermeil?

Deion Sanders
Deion's brighter than the lights in Times Square.
You can't see it?

What are you? Blind?

Neon isn't.

"R-Dub," Deion said over the phone. "Jimmy Johnson never called a play in his life. I can't delegate authority? I can't call up Norv Turner or Ray Rhodes? I can't organize? I don't know pro football? Please. Tell me you don't like me, but don't tell me I'm not 'qualified'."

Myself, personally, I wouldn't underestimate Deion on this. That's a hard-won response on my part. I've underestimated Deion before, to my regret. Every time I was disappointed in him, I thought I was being disappointed by Deion; but actually, I was being disappointed by my own reaction to Deion.

So now, as far as I'm concerned, Deion is Lola in "Damn Yankees." Whatever Neon wants, Deion gets, pretty much. Come to think of it, Deion used to be a Yankee, an actual New York Yankee. Can you believe that? So one man's fantasy is just another man's road trip, or job transfer.

Not only did Deion eventually play for the Falcons, Niners, Cowboys and Redskins, he also played for the Yankees, Braves and Reds! Jim Thorpe, Bo Jackson or Dave DeBusschere couldn't match that versatility. Well, yeah, they could. But no athlete in American history can match that itinerary as a player. In fact, Neon is just one hard consonant from being Neo, the hero of the "Matrix" trilogy. Maybe he could perform the most difficult feat in the history of American culture: Getting Morpheus to shut up.

Now, is Deion lucky? Or good? Or both? Or more?


Watch Deion's interview
You can see Deion Sanders' interview in ESPN Motion by Motion: Deion wants to coach 
It started when he was at Florida State, playing football and baseball at an exceedingly high level and having the temerity to point that out. Me, I was stumbling drunkenly in the halls of Sports Illy at the time. One day, B. Peter Carry called me in, like M calls in 007, and said it had been decided I should do a piece on one Neon Deion Sanders. I didn't know Deion and hadn't seen him play at that point, but his reputation as a card preceeded him.

"But he's a bit of a card," I said to B. Peter Carry.

"Well, maybe not all the time," said B. Peter Carry. "And even if he is one, that's sort of what we do, write about cards."

"Not interested," I proclaimed.

"Who cares if you're interested or not?" Carry shot back.

The upshot was Curry Kirkpatrick did the cover story on Deion Sanders of Florida State. I did a cover story on ... I forget.

Fast forward a few months. Segue to "Up Close with Roy Firestone," an ESPN show I was guilty of, from time to time, back in the day. By then I'd hooked up with Road Dog; you know Dog, sometimes his mouth runs a go when his brain should be calling an out cut. Dog was on the show first; and for some reason, owing to some shrewd self-promotional antics Deion was up to at the time, Dog said Deion "should be shot."

Firestone and his people knew Dog was my boy; I wasn't going to just let him twist in the wind alone like that. So what do they do? They get me on there and play the clip of Dog talking out of his neck and then they cut to Roy sincerely asking me where I come down on this Neon Deion Prime Time matter. Roy Firestone. Bastard.

Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders
In their prime, Deion could hold Jerry Rice down.
So I said, "Well, athletically speaking, I have never seen anyone like Deion Sanders. Bobby Beathard told me he never saw anything like Deion Sanders. But part of being a great athlete -- at least half of being a great athlete -- is using your mind. And Deion may have a 4.2 body ... and a 5-flat mind ... "

A serious faux pas that I regretted in ensuing years. Deion was far shrewder than I gave him credit for. He turned a non-glamour position like cornerback into maybe the most glamorous defensive position of all, taking the play away from those troglodytes at middle 'backer. Thus, he increased his value and rate of pay. Hell, I should've been taking seminars from Deion Sanders.

We've gone over his most enviable itinerary as a player. He had some unfortunate run-ins early, like dumping water on Tim McCarver in the Braves' locker room. But at least he was an equal opportunity dumper. I remember when his former Falcon teammate, Andre Rison, played against him, when Deion was NFL Defensive Player of the Year with the 49ers in 1994, on what may have been the best football team ever. Rison couldn't even get off the line. And when he protested and tried to cuff his old pal and hero and role model Deion, Neon had him on his butt in seconds there at the Georgia Dome. And then he stood over him, looking more like Maximus than Ray Lewis ever dreamed of looking.

"It's my house," Deion said later. And so it was.

I watched him study and then solve Jerry Rice in his prime. Rice was the most difficult problem a DB ever faced. Deion watched Rice put five TDs in one game on a corner named Charles Dimry, while a young Prime Time was studiously observing on the other side of the field. But when he and his game were ready, Deion took over; and for one game, he covered Jerry one-and-one and kept him out of the end zone and picked off Steve Young in the end zone, off Rice in his prime, and the lowly Falcons beat the mighty Niners. That was the day Deion graduated. What I would've given to see some of those practice match-ups between Deion and Jerry later, once Deion had shrewdly signed with the Niners as a free agent.

Uncounted wins, picks, TDs, drum-major kickouts, hand-to-helmet-listening-to-radio-transmissions from God, buck-and-wing, heel-toe end-zone dances later, Deion retired, basically as King of the NFL World. Just look around at NFL DBs today -- Mario Edwards of Dallas; or Dexter McDeion, I mean McCleon, of K.C.; Dre Bly of Detroit; Deltha O'Neal of Denver; Charles Woodson of the Raiders; Fred Smoot and Champ Bailey of the Redskins -- they all use Deion's techniques, and try to play with Deion's panache. They are, for the most part, Star Wars IV, the Attack of Deion's Clones.

And now Deion hosts more TV shows than Regis Philbin.

Talk about impact player.

So I have no problem hearing him out on this, or even envisioning him as the coach of the Atlanta Falcons. If he says he can do it, I, for one, believe him. The guy's shrewd, I'm telling you, even though I'm sure right now that ATL head coach Dan Reeves, another former Dallas Cowboy player, is uncensored-thought-ballooning, "Yeah -- he's too #$@%&! shrewd."

Deion Sanders
Let's hope Jesus didn't make you pay a lot for that suit.
"It's a system," said Deion, "that I'm threatening. But that's not what I'm trying to do. I'd just like Mr. Blank to hear me out. See Dub, in basketball, it's no problem if a Larry Bird comes back and coaches a team and delegates authority after he retires. Guys like that aren't taking assistant coaches jobs. They've proven to be coaches on the field already. Baseball, same way. The Orioles have begged Cal Ripken to consider taking their manager's job. You know it. I know it. Why pretend?

"If two years after he retired, Brett Favre happened to catch the Green Bay Packers at 1-and-7, why shouldn't he be considered as a possible head coach, if he has the organizational skills and the fire in his belly to do it? One thing about it: he wouldn't be getting drilled for suggesting it, like I'm getting now. It's not about me being an NFL head coach. It's about me being head coach of the Atlanta Falcons."

Like I said. I'm not about to doubt Deion Sanders. Not ever again.

But then, I don't own the Atlanta Falcons. Let me harp on that.

"Rectify that little oversight, Deion, and you're hired. I guarantee it." That's my little contribution to the Week 10 NFL Uncensored Thought Balloons.

And, in this vein, here are some others:


Arthur Blank, Owner, Atlanta Falcons: "Deion must think I'm crazy. And maybe I am crazy, for buying a pro team in this freaking market. I don't care how many spots Nike Gridiron makes. I'm not signing T.O. and giving him any $20 million. But Deion says he can control him. With what, a cattle prod? Deion says he can get him to sign for much less. Hmmm. Pull up a chair, D. How long can I afford to keep going with Reeves from a marketing point of view? We'd made inroads ... now ... got to get my mind off Deion. Think of show tunes. Maria ... I've just met a girl named Maria. De-ria ... this is driving me insane! Why can't I stop thinking of Deion ... ?"

Jim Fassell, Coach, New York Giants: "Deion's got some Phil Jackson in him, I see. Scan the rosters for the sports Messiah figure then just happen to be available. Hell, I'd like to coach Mike Vick, too. I'd like to coach Jesus, if that #%@&! Accorsi could sign him. Look at Vick on the sidelines. What an arm. What feet. Wipe away that drool, Jim. The Maras are watching."

Steve Spurrier
You can cover you mouth, but we can still read your mind.
Steve Spurrier, Coach, Washington Redskins: "What makes Deion the Klingon think he's any better'n me? Vick? He's ah'right. Tell you who I wanna coach. I wanna coach Chris Leak at Florida. Think Zeke, Zweiback, Zook, whatever the hell his name is didn't promise Leak he'd be startin' as a true freshman by halftime of the first game? How else did he git him? I'da never promised that. I'd shuttle him in and outta there with Brock Berlin. Brock Berlin's my kinda quarterback. Mostly, I'm my kinda quarterback. What is Snyder whispering about? I can't go back to Florida, but ... Miami! Yeah! Florida State! Pitino did it. Tennessee! Freakin' Volunteers! Clock's tickin' on me, Cyclops Fullmer, but it's tickin' on you too, big sumbitch."

Mike Holmgren, Coach, Seattle Seahawks: "If Deion's an NFL head coach, I'm Craig Stadler. Wait a minute. I think I am Craig Stadler ... "

Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona Cardinals: "I'm with Deion, philosophically. If I can produce for Dave McGinnis, I can produce for anybody. I don't care if Snoop Dogg's coaching. I just want to stay humble and lovable and catch every ball that goes airborne. I'm the best-kept secret in the league. I'm the rookie of the year. I'm blowing uuup. I'm also in ... the Twilight Zone."

Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: "People call me a throwback. No. I play like my scalp is on fire because ... my scalp is on fire. Help!"

Dick Jauron, Coach, Chicago Bears: "So Deion wants to just walk in and be a coach? Well, let him come up here and chum some of this sh** first ... "

Steve Mariucci, Coach, Detroit Lions: "Hey, I work for a living. If Deion thinks he can just come out of the broadcast booth and do what I do, he's got another think coming. If I think Matt Millen can come out of the broadcast booth and do what he does, I guess I've got another think coming, too."

Tony Banks, QB, Houston Texans: "It's all relationships. I wouldn't be surprised if Deion got the job. All he's got to do is convince is one guy. It's not an election. He doesn't have to win by popular vote or electoral college. All he's got to do is convince one guy. Why I am thinking about Deion? To keep from thinking about how jealous I am of Jon Kitna. That b**** ... "

Warren Sapp
Warren Sapp thinks?
Corey Dillon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: "Marevlous Marvin Lewis, I'll swat him like a fly. It's my team. And it used to be my car. But I wrecked it. Why did I wreck it? Don't ask. I don't know karate, but I know kah-razy."

Warren Sapp, DL, Tampa Bay Bucs: "If Deion wants to be the slavemaster, Sapp ain't gonna be the slave. Am I right? Am I? Who'm I talking to? Me? Say -- didn't Deion have the upper berth above me on the Amistad?"

Stephen Davis, RB, Carolina Panthers: "Good night, Michael Westbrook, wherever you are. Who's the one kicking ass now? Hey if you're confused, talk to God; don't get mad at me. I got my own problems with Sapp, Simeon, Brooks and Booger all after my heiney ... "

Zach Thomas, LB, Miami Dolphins: "Super Bowl? Who cares, man? For four long, hard, lean, f*****-up years, I lived deep in the hellhole known as Lubbock, Texas. Ever been to Lubbock? Or Midland? Or Odessa? Trust me on this. You don't want to know. I didn't know until I left. I live in Miami Beach now, man. Let me say that slow for you. M-i-a-m-i-B-e-e-s-h. I don't have to go to any Super Bowl. I'm just living the dream every day.

Eddie George, RB, Tennessee Titans: "Look at Zach. Probably got nothing on his mind but going to the Super Bowl. Gimme that rock, Steve. Let me run over him. Keep giving me the rock, Steve. Until Ray-Ray shows up. Then get out of my way, Steve, else I'll run over you getting outta here."

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts: "It was an INNOCENT PRANK, *#%@$!! Guttersnipes! Vanderjagt, come check my stress fracture for me."

Hugh Douglass, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars: "I am not an animal. But I am ineffective. Maybe nobody will notice. Uh-oh. I think Del Rio noticed."

Dick Vermeil
Dick Vermeil's got Kansas City thinking undefeated season.
Butch Davis, Coach, Cleveland Browns: "Actually, on second thought, I really don't want either one of these guys. Tell you what, Deion -- you can have the Atlanta job if you take Couch and Holcombe for Vick. Listen to my thoughts, Deion. You will use your powers to get Blank and Ray Anderson and Bobby Beathard to make that trade, and you will be rewarded ... Aw damn! That Jedi mind trick never works for me. I know! LeBron!"

Dick Vermeil, Coach, Kansas City Chiefs: "(weeping) Deion ... Deion. I love you, man. Hugs. But if you take the job ... of coaching ... in this league ... the highest honor ... a football coach can know ... then I'm going to do ... my level best ... to kick your narrow ass ... all over the map ... my brother."

Mike Tice, Coach, Minnesota Vikings: "Know what else is fun, Deion? You can suit up! The media will think it's a goof. But it feels so gooood, just to put the pads on again. I want Deion to coach. That way, I won't be the most inexperienced one. What's my record? 6-and-2. Say it again. 6-and-2. Uh-oh, here comes Red. Better hide the beer and nachos, put away this Maxim."

Marty Schottenheimer, Coach, San Diego Chargers: "If Deion gets a head coaching job, it's a travesty. I'll walk off the field. He doesn't belong. I'll refuse to shake his hand. All the guys who will have gotten passed over to get a head job and Brother Yap gets one? After embarrassing me? All these fine assistant coaches, waiting their whole lives, getting nothing, now here comes Deion, no experience, no philosophy, no couth, no straw-colored hair. Who does he think he is? Why, I deserve three head coaching jobs before he even gets an interview ... wait. I deserve four head coaching jobs before ... "

Anonymous, Coach, Buffalo Bills: "Did you hear what Parcells said about you, Drew, did ya, hunh, did ya? What's my name, Parcells? Eat this, this, and this! What's my name? Hunh? Say ... what is my name?"

Bill Parcells, Coach, Dallas Cowboys: "Anonymous, that's your name, stooge. That Roy Williams is my kinda football player. He's a somewhat smaller, non-chemically-dependent version of LT, playing on jet-assisted rollerblades. Him, I like. You can pretty much ship the rest of these mothers back to wherever slagheap it is they came in from. Quincy! Jesus, Quincy. Will you ever learn? What's my alternative? Chad Which? OK, I meant what's my reasonable alternative. Jerry has mentioned trading for Chris Simms? Hmmm. Quincy! Read my eyes. Don't screw that up again."

Herm Edwards, Coach, New York Jets: "Swear to God, I don't know how Huck Pennington does it. He looks like he should be selling peanuts in the stands, running to get me a tuna fish sandwich, or twirling fire batons at halftime, or something. But he does it, so who I am to argue? Why is Deion over here today? Why is he batting his eyelashes at Woody like that ... ?"

Ray Lewis
You don't have to be a mind reader to know Ray Lewis strikes fear in opponents.
Bill Callahan, Coach, Oakland Raiders: "(the lonely song of crickets)"

Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens: " ... who will protect this house! Who will listen to my nonsensical bluster! Who will confuse me with Mr. T, on "The A Team." If Deion coaches, I got next. And when you face me, smile, fool, because you're already dead! Hahahaha! Stay with me! Billick hasn't returned my DVD of "Gladiator." Why does he test me? I can't live without my weekly shot of Maximus saying Prox-SEE-mo instead of PROX-ee-mo ... Someone will have to pay for this insult."

Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams: "Uh -- say, maybe I'll wait until next week to come back. Ray Lewis? It's got nothing at all to do with Ray Lewis. It's just that I ... feel a twinge. What are these handles growing on my waist? Is that ... human flesh? My human flesh? Gah! It is flesh!"

Donovan McNabb, QB, Phladelphia Eagles: "Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Nice name. Uhnn! That was Gbaja, Kabeer! Ow! That was, too! That didn't hurt. Look, a Christmas card from Rush! How nice. I'll have to send a case of Chunky soup to the rehab center. Lookit my thumb. Lookit the colors ... "

Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers: "Al Sharpton said what about me?"

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.



Ralph Wiley Archive

Wiley: "Radio" has too much static

Wiley: Who's the goat now?

Wiley: Uncensored NFL thoughts

Wiley: The Classic vs. The Frontier

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