FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- You think of Deion Sanders and your first image of him might be as a member of the Cowboys, 49ers, Redskins or Ravens.
But as Sanders gets ready to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, let us not forget that his NFL career actually began as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Drafted fifth overall in 1989, Sanders played for the Falcons through 1993. He hasn’t forgotten his time in Atlanta and neither have the Falcons.
“When I was dreaming as kid, I couldn’t often times share those dreams because I thought they were so out of the box. Never would people think that a kid from Ft. Myers, Florida, who was small in stature, but big on confidence, would ever have his name recognized in a stadium in the only place he played in which he called home,’’ Sanders said last year when he was inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor. “I want to thank the Atlanta Falcons, ironically 21 years later (from the year he was drafted and also the jersey number he wore in Atlanta), for making my dreams come true.’’
This isn’t like the Baseball Hall of Fame, where a player has to declare what team’s hat he wants on his plaque. Members of the football Hall of Fame represent all the teams they play for.
This will be a big moment for the Falcons because Sanders is the first player they’ve drafted to make the Hall of Fame. Although Rankin Smith owned the team when Sanders played for the Falcons, new owner Arthur Blank has developed a strong bond with the player who was nicknamed “Prime Time.’’
Blank already is in Canton and he and Sanders have agreed to carve out some private time to sit and talk Saturday morning. Although the Falcons are in the middle of training camp, the team will send a large contingent to Ohio.
Blank’s son, Josh, also will be on the trip. Other members of the organization who will be in attendance include player programs director Kevin Winston, vice president of communications Reggie Roberts and senior director of media relations Frank Kleha.
Winston has worked closely with Sanders, who maintains a youth foundation in Atlanta. That’s not his only lasting bond with the city. Sanders also hosted a “Thank You Atlanta’’ party at 200 Peachtree on July 16, with proceeds going to his foundation.
Sanders’ only rule for the party was that all attendees had to wear red and black.