Deion Sanders won big for HBCU football, even without winning the title


ATLANTA – Almost perfect.

It’s not how Deion Sanders imagined going out as Jackson State’s marquee mover and shaker, but it happened again inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday: the Tigers lost” The Big One”.

For the second year in a row, Sanders took his team of SWAC champions to his old stomping ground in a bid to capture the Black College National Championship with a victory in the Celebration Bowl.

And again, the Tigers shit. This time, North Carolina Central — feeling disrespected as an undercard in Coach Prime’s farewell performance at HBCU — upstaged Sanders and his team in an overtime thriller.

Now Sanders is a living legend with Super Bowl rings, a golden Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket, World Series references and all manner of fame and fortune. But boy, did he want to head off into the Colorado sunset with a national championship on his resume.

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“We lost, man,” Sanders said the day after the 41-34 loss that also squandered Jackson State’s (12-1) chance to finish a perfect, undefeated season. “We lost twice. I am a winner.”

Hey, nobody’s perfect. Still, it looked like Sanders was stunned and embarrassed to head to the Rocky Mountains as Colorado’s new coach with a reminder that it’s really hard to win when your top-ranked defense — worn out by transfer gate inbounds , notice – allows 276 rushing yards. . But that was not the whole story.

Sanders, as hot of a property as he is for quickly turning Jackson State into an HBCU powerhouse, was also passed. Trei Oliver and his team devised some nifty tricks to gain an advantage – including a fake punt that went 43 yards after a straight snap off Kyle Morgan and an early chip flicker that ended with receiver EJ Hicks completing a 31-yard pass to quarterback Davius ​​Richard.

No, Sanders didn’t win The Big One, but he did win a lot. That, of course, goes beyond the 27-6 record in three seasons. Sanders put a huge spotlight on HBCU football, he generated big revenue for Jackson State, laid down the law with his players for off-field matters like few coaches can, academics pointed out , gave hope, established long-term plans and provided impetus for modernized facilities.

Imagine what more Sanders could have done for JSU and HBCU if he had stayed longer.

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That’s up for debate now. He’s off to Colorado for a new challenge and despite the feeling of some (or maybe even many) in the HBCU universe that they’ve been let down, Sanders doesn’t deserve anyone’s guilt trip. He made his mark, provided much needed and long overdue relevance to HBCU football and his impact will be felt for years to come.

“I’m not leaving,” Sanders said. “I will always love HBCUs. Ashley Robinson (Jackson State athletic director) gave me a phenomenal opportunity. I was able to maximize my moments. But if it wasn’t for this opportunity, I probably wouldn’t have received these other opportunities that I have received. So I am eternally in debt. I will miss the Sonic Boom (the J-State marching band)… so many people.

“The movement didn’t stop with one man, although it could have started. The movement will continue with a plan.

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Despite all that multidimensional impact, Sanders is still as determined as any competitor you’ll come across. He was surely disappointed that he couldn’t present a Celebration Bowl trophy to Robert Brazile, the former linebacker who is one of four Jackson State alumni in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brazile has been an advisor, a supporter, a “big brother” to Sanders, who leveraged his insight immensely as he navigated the HBCU landscape. When he took the job in 2020, Sanders wanted Brazile’s blessing. Now he just wishes he could have returned the favor with a black college title.

“I feel like I let him down,” Sanders said. “There’s my man.”

That wasn’t the only thing gnawing at Sanders as he retired to Jackson State. He opposed widespread suggestions that he bolted to Colorado because it was so much more lucrative, with his five-year contract worth $30 million.

No, it wasn’t the classic scenario of taking the money and running away.

“To even understand the fact that I would do anything for the money and that God has been good to me financially takes my breath away,” Sanders bristled. “Because you didn’t say that when I was in the hospital for a month and came to the sidelines in a wheelchair.” Did I do this for the money? When I reach into my pocket and pay for stuff, did I do it for money? When I love these kids and do things that you wouldn’t even imagine a coach would do, did I do that for money? »

And here’s the punchline, wrapped in pure Neon Deion language: “Money doesn’t touch me. I move money.

In other words, don’t insult the man. Sanders came out of pocket for meals, lodging, training center, etc. And then there was a water crisis or two. It’s fair to wonder if the monumental challenges off the court wore Sanders out, but it’s more reasonable to consider how the conditions changed for him personally after taking on the challenge at Jackson State that he envisioned from the start was bigger. than football with a large community. service component.

Sanders revealed earlier this year that he had two toes on his left foot amputated due to life-threatening blood clots that forced him to coach last year’s national title game on a custom motorized scooter.

This is what passion looks like.

As Sanders noted on Saturday, many of the things he may have made easy had a spiritual, psychological and emotional impact.

And he still won. Won big.


USA Today

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