For a long time, if you were a cornerback in the National Football League, you were famous only if your nickname was “toast”. And that fame was fleeting. Then Deion Sanders hit Atlanta and ‘Neon Deion” lit up the city.
Sanders was selected fifth overall by the Falcons in the 1989 NFL Draft after being a two-time consensus All-American cornerback at Florida State.
Sanders made a splash in his first NFL game by returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. Sanders started 10 games his rookie season and intercepted five passes and was credited with two forced fumbles.
In 1990, he continued to be a key to the Falcons defense. Sanders only intercepted three passes but returned two of them for touchdowns. He also contributed on special teams with another punt return touchdown, an 8.6 yards per punt return average and 39 kick returns for a 21.8 yards per return average.
In 1991, Sanders not only made the first of eight Pro Bowl appearances of his career, he also brought his baseball talents to the Atlanta Braves. In 1992, Sanders hit the peak of his Atlanta sports career. For the Falcons, Sanders was named a first team All-Pro for the first of six times in his career. He led the NFL in kick return yards with 1,067 and took two of his 40 kickoff returns all the way for touchdowns. He also led Major League Baseball with 14 triples in 97 games with the Braves.
On October 11, 1992, Sanders played in the Falcons afternoon game against the Dolphins in Miami, then flew to Pittsburgh and was available that night to play for the Braves in the NLCS. Later in his career Sanders would become the only player to appear in both a Super Bowl and a World Series.
In 2010, even though he had only spent the first five of his 14 NFL seasons in Atlanta, Sanders had lit up the city so completely that he was inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor.