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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Prime mover

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It should have been just a normal story about an underdog team that overcame the odds (including those in Las Vegas) to win a big game. But few things are normal when it comes to former NFL and MLB superstar Deion “Prime Time” Sanders. Now known popularly as “Coach Prime”, Sanders helms the University of Colorado football team. (For the record, my favorite moniker for him is “Neon Deion”.)

Last Saturday, Coach Prime’s Buffaloes locked horns with Texas Christian University, better known as TCU. Whereas Colorado won just a single game last season, TCU’s Horned Frogs were runners-up to the national champion University of Georgia. Needless to say, TCU was ranked going into the game. Even more needless to say, Colorado wasn’t. They were also a 21-point underdog. However, as reported by ESPN, Sanders became the first non-interim head coach to win his FBS debut as a 20-plus point underdog since the FBS and FCS split in 1978.

As thrilling as the back-and-forth, drama-filled contest on the field was, Sanders’ post-game back-and-forth, drama-filled interview was perhaps even more of a must-see spectator sport. He said in part:

“We’re gonna continuously be questioned, because we do things that have never been done… And that makes people uncomfortable. When you see a confident Black man, sittin’ up here talkin’ his talk (and) walkin’ his walk, coachin’ 75% African Americans in the locker room, that’s kind of threatening… But guess what. We’re gonna consistently do what we do because I’m here and I ain’t goin’ nowhere. And I’m about to get comfortable in a minute.”

The fact that Sanders dared to reference race was problematic for some, who offered such retorts as, “You never hear Nick Saban or Kirby Smart mention race during their press conferences”. They conveniently leave out the fact that neither Saban nor Smart receive volumes of hate mail based on their race. Sanders does. So, with all due respect to Morgan Freeman, race won’t simply go away “if people stop talking about it” – any more than cancer would disappear if we banned that word. Further, God blessed humanity with a wonderful tapestry of colors. There is no need for race to “go away”. Racism, of course, is another matter.

Sanders is rich and famous. Yet, as any high-profile African American knows, fame and wealth don’t shield them from racism. In fact, their success is often a catalyst for increased racial animus. To compound matters, Sanders was an early hip hop icon, foreshadowing the marriage of sports and rap culture. His swagger, flashiness, wardrobe, and, yes, his mouth all but guaranteed that he would be verbally attacked by racists. Today, Nick Saban might be the biggest villain in the SEC, but Black folks don’t vilify him for being white.  

The post-game kerfuffle aside, Colorado and Sanders have a great deal about which they can be proud. His son Shadeur, who plays quarterback, threw for 510 yards. Not only is that a Colorado record; it also made him the first player to throw that many yards in a debut FBS game since at least 1996. Sanders, who also had no interceptions, broke eight other Colorado records. Oh, he had four touchdowns to boot.

The young Sanders wasn’t the only hero on Saturday. Travis Hunter, who is perhaps the nation’s best college player, broke three school records. Further, he is the first FBS player in 20 years to have at least 100 yards receiving and an interception in the same game. Coach Prime’s elder son, Shilo, was no slouch either. He recorded 10 tackles, nine of which were solo. The future is indeed bright for the Buffaloes.

During his press conference, Coach Sanders defiantly asked “Now what??” While his question was intended to be rhetorical, it is also inherently interrogative. And it should be. This was just one game. There are at least 11 remaining and expectations will be high. However, if Colorado had been decimated (as had been anticipated), Sanders’ detractors would not have been shy with their “I told you so’s”. As it stands, they must gorge themselves on humble pie, at least for the moment.

Deion Sanders is, in more ways than one, a prime mover. His infectious confidence and alpha male personality inspired his teammates during his legendary playing days. For the last several years, the same has been true for the young men who are in his charge. Yes, this was just one game. But it would be foolish to doubt that great things are on the horizon.

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