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Primed for greatness?

Humbled in defeat, Deion Sanders could be headed for bigger things


Colorado head football coach Deion Sanders Associated Press/Photo by Mark J. Terrill

Primed for greatness?
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The Bible declares that “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6). Deion Sanders is shaping up to be a prime example of that—pun intended. And for the University of Colorado’s first-year football coach, that could ultimately be a good thing.

Known widely throughout the sports world as “Coach Prime,” Sanders’ nickname is a nod to his athletic prime. A human highlight reel in virtually every sport in which he competed, Sanders earned the moniker “Prime Time” as a standout high school athlete. He carried it with him to college at Florida State and as a two-sport superstar in both the National Football League and Major League Baseball.

Sanders forged a Hall-of-Fame, 14-season NFL career, earning Super Bowl rings with both the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys. To this day, he remains the only pro athlete to appear in both the Super Bowl and the World Series – and the only one to hit an MLB home run and score an NFL touchdown in the same seven-day week.

Arising from his athletic accomplishments has been a certain bravado – some would call it arrogance or even hubris—that has always defined Sanders. Before the Atlanta Falcons made him their top pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, Sanders showed up to the NFL combine—where pro football teams scout potential prospects before signing them to multi-million-dollar deals—and ran the fastest 40-yard dash in the combine’s history, then promptly left.

Sanders has carried that swagger with him in his coaching tenure at Colorado: After guiding the Buffaloes, who went 1-11 in 2022, to a 45-42 upset of Texas Christian – last season’s national runner-up—in the teams’ season opener in early September, Sanders barked at reporters, “We keep the receipts!”

Sanders’ meaning: Openly doubt my ability to lead this team to victory, and I’ll throw it in your face when I do.

As the Buffaloes improved to 3-0 with wins over Nebraska and Colorado State and rose to a No. 19 national ranking, it appeared Coach Prime’s crowing would only get worse.

Then came the last Saturday in September, when Colorado opened Pac-12 Conference play on the road against Oregon. Though humility has never been Sanders’ strong suit, the Ducks made him wear it that day, tailoring it just for him with a resounding 42-6 defeat.

To his credit, Sanders wore it with class.

“Thank the Lord for allowing this to transpire,” said Sanders, seated behind a table wearing a grey sport coat, dark aviator sunglasses, and a large gold cross on a matching chain around his neck. “It was a good old-fashioned butt-kicking.

“There’s no excuses, no nothing. Their coaches did a heck of a job and prepared their team well. Obviously, we didn’t.”

More losses followed: Colorado fell to the University of Southern California the following week. After barely defeating a one-win Arizona State squad, the Buffaloes lost on their home field to equally pathetic Stanford in double overtime.

After losing to UCLA on Oct. 28, Coach Prime’s Buffaloes dropped to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 Conference play. Colorado finished the season last week with a record of 4-8.

The lack of humility he sometimes displays might well be a flaw the Lord appears to be ironing out. Every Christian has them. 

The loss to Stanford inspired Saturday Night Live to roast Sanders. On the show’s “Weekend Update” segment, comedian Kenan Thompson donned a white Colorado hoodie, a matching cap, sunglasses and a gold cross, and proceeded to caricature the coach, who claims to be Christian.

“To me, coaching is a higher calling,” Thompson told segment host Colin Jost.

To which Jost responded, “You started your career at Jackson State (in Mississippi), a historically black college.”

“Very good, Colin,” Thompson replied. “I truly believe that God called me there.”

“And then three years later, you went to Chicago—I mean Colorado,” Jost said.

“That’s right,” Thompson said. “Because God called me again and said, ‘My bad.’”

Again, to his credit, Sanders took the lampooning good-naturedly. However, the skit shed light on the controversial nature of his tenure at Colorado: In light of the seeming contradiction between his professions of faith and his boisterous personality, Sanders has drawn fire from multiple sides.

Shortly after Sanders’ hiring at Colorado, a video featuring the coach praying with his players went viral. This angered the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a letter to the university expressing concerns about players feeling pressured to participate.

First Liberty Institute came to Sanders’ defense in February: The non-profit legal defense firm responded to FFRF’s letter with one of its own. The letter informed Colorado officials that if the university did not allow Sanders to pray with his players, it would run afoul of the Supreme Court’s decision allowing former high-school football coach Joe Kennedy to pray after games and make religious references in speeches to players.

Sanders has also drawn criticism from conservative sports commentators Jason Whitlock of The Blaze and John Simmons of MRCTV. Both have slammed Sanders for suggesting after the win over TCU that many media outlets have doubted his ability to win at Colorado because he’s black—and for making himself a lightning rod by seeking the limelight.

Whitlock—who, like Sanders, is black and professes to be a Christian—has even expressed doubt about whether Sanders truly walks the Christian walk.

“Believers demonstrate their faith by giving the glory to God and smothering themselves in humility,” Whitlock said earlier this month on his BlazeTV show, Fearless, in the wake of Sanders’ win over TCU. “This is my problem with Deion Sanders: He expresses faith in Jesus Christ and himself, then he contradicts at every turn.”

Personally, I don’t doubt that Sanders is a believer. The lack of humility he sometimes displays might well be a flaw the Lord appears to be ironing out. Every Christian has them.

In the Bible, Jesus tells His followers, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Sanders has exalted himself plenty of times. Oregon, USC, and Stanford have all humbled him big-time.

However, he’s taken his humblings with grace and praised God in defeat. If he continues to do that, God may bestow favor on him in the future.

And then, what a coach he’ll be.


Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD who has covered sports professionally for three decades. He is also a licensed attorney who lives in Keizer, Ore., with his wife Pauline and daughter Ava.

@RayHacke43


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