Sports Legend Revealed: Did Deion Sanders play in an NFL and MLB game the same day?
FOOTBALL LEGEND: Deion Sanders played in an NFL game and an MLB game on the same day.
As the baseball season comes to a close and the football season gets ready to start, now is a perfect time to celebrate that glorious period where the two great sports actually overlap with each other. In honor of this overlap period, I figured we could address one of the greatest two-sport athletes of all-time, Deion Sanders and the legend of whether Sanders actually managed to play a professional game in each league on the SAME day!
In April of 1989, the Atlanta Falcons used their first round pick (the fifth overall) on Sanders. In June of 1989, the New York Yankees used their 30th Round pick on Sanders. He signed with both teams, creating an impressive trio of athletes then playing both sports - Sanders, Bo Jackson of the Royals and Los Angeles Raiders and Sanders' Falcons teammate, Brian Jordan, who played for the Falcons while working his way through the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system.
Sanders made his debut for the Yankees in the 1989 season and in the 1990 season he had a memorable game where the Yankees faced off against Jackson's Royals. Jackson hit two massive home runs while Sanders raced around the base paths for an inside-the-park home run. Sadly, that highlight was pretty much the only highlight Sanders had in his two seasons as a Yankees, and the team released him after the 1990 season. He signed with the Atlanta Braves and played a role in their remarkable turnaround from last place in the National League West in 1990 to first place in 1991. However, due to a clause in his NFL contract, Sanders had to skip out on the Major League postseason, as the Braves went on to the World Series.
Sanders had a tremendous 1991 season in the NFL, being named to the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All-Pro. This was the first of his eight Pro-Bowl appearances as he was well on his way to becoming one of the great cornerbacks in NFL history. Before the 1992 MLB season, Sanders re-negotiated his NFL contract to allow him to return to the Braves after first reporting to the Falcons for training camp. This arrangement allowed Sanders to participate in the 1992 MLB postseason with the Braves, who once again made the playoffs.
What happened in the 1992 MLB playoffs is what I like to call "storytelling rounding up." Often, when a story is interesting but falls just a bit short of what would really stand out, future re-tellings of the story will often skew the facts so that the story is "rounded up" to the most interesting version of the story. For instance, instead of saying Ronnie Lott risked terrible damage to his injured finger by participating in the NFL playoffs and ultimately had to have a piece of his finger amputated during the offseason, which is a very cool story, the story is "rounded up" to being Ronnie Lott had a piece of his finger amputated so that he could play in the NFL playoffs (I featured the full Ronnie Lott story here, by the way).
With the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sanders was determined to be available to play in every game of the series, even though Game 5 of the series would take place on a Sunday. In Game 4 of the series in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, with Atlanta up 2 games to 1, Sanders played and entered the game in a double switch in the seventh inning. Atlanta won the game to go up 3 games to 1.
Sanders then flew to Miami where he played for the Falcons in a day game against the Miami Dolphins (the Falcons lost. Sanders had been fined $68,000 for missing the first game of the NFL season, but he had played in every other game since). He then flew from Miami to Pittsburgh to suit up for Game 5 of the NLCS.
However, that's all he did - suit up. Sanders never got to play in the game (which Pittsburgh won, by the way). So while he certainly tried to make sports history, Sanders was not able to play an NFL game the same day as an MLB game. No player has managed to do it in sports history. But the story has been "rounded up" over the years to go from "Sanders is the only player to suit up for an NFL game the same day as an MLB game" to "Sanders is the only player to play in an NFL game the same day as an MLB game," (just do a quick internet search for the second sentence and you'll find a number of places crediting Sanders with playing in both games), and that is simply not true.
-- Brian Cronin
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plus the beginning of a special "All Football Legends Week" this week leading up to the kick-off of the 2010 NFL Season with legends involving the 2009 NFL Final Four, like... What Saint player inspired a special rule after he set an NFL record in 1970?
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Photo: Deion Sanders with the Washington Redskins in 2000. Credit: Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images.