Only one athlete has ever actually played in both the Super Bowl and the World Series. That athlete was Deion Sanders.
Nicknamed “Prime Time,” Sanders played 14 seasons, with five different teams, in the National Football League between 1989-2005 — including a three-year stretch from 2001-03 when he “retired” from the sport.
With Super Bowl LVII scheduled for tomorrow evening, it’s time to look back and admire the ability of Sanders and several others to play multiple sports at the same time.
As for the game itself, scheduled for Glendale, Arizona, the Philadelphia Eagles will take on the Kansas City Chiefs. It is arguably the most popular single-day event in American sports. The Eagles are playing in their fourth Super Bowl and looking to win their second. The Chiefs are also appearing in their fourth, looking to win for the third time.
There have been many great multi-sport athletes over the course of American pro sports history, from Jim Thorpe to Danny Ainge, Gene Conley, Dick Groat, Dave DeBuscherre, Brian Jordan, Chris Bahr, and numerous others.
Bo Jackson is considered by many to have been the greatest of these multi-sport athletes in recent times. He was an American League All-Star with the Kansas City Royals during an eight-year career from 1986-91 and 1993-94 in Major League Baseball and an All-Pro with the Oakland Raiders during a simultaneous four-year career over 1987-90 in the National Football League.
Sanders also appeared in Major League Baseball for nine seasons (four organizations) over 1989-2001. He sat out 1996 as well as the 1997-98 campaigns while concentrating solely on pro football.
A far more notable football player, Sanders was an eight-time Pro Bowl defensive back and return specialist. He was the 1994 AP Defensive Player of the Year, and, following his retirement, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In baseball, Sanders used his blazing speed to swipe 186 bases over a career during which he slashed .263/.319/.392 with 39 home runs, 72 doubles, and 43 triples.
In 1992 with the Atlanta Braves, Sanders enjoyed his best season. That year he hit .304 with a career-high eight homers while leading all of baseball with 14 triples in just 97 games. During a 1994 season split between Atlanta and Cincinnati, he stole a career-high 38 bases.
It was in the 1992 postseason that Sanders reached the World Series. During Atlanta’s defeat at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays, he started four of the six games in left field. Sanders performed well, batting .533 with eight hits including a pair of doubles. He also scored four runs and stole five bases during that Fall Classic.
After sitting out the Braves’ opening game home victory, Sanders was slotted into the two-hole of manager Bobby Cox’ starting lineup for Game 2. He had two walks and a hit in that one, singling off David Cone in the bottom of the fifth inning. Sanders then stole second, moved to third on an error, and scored on a David Justice base-hit to put Atlanta up, 3-2. Toronto would win it thanks to a two-run homer from Ed Sprague off a fading Jeff Reardon in the top of the ninth inning to even the series at a game apiece.
In Game 3 in Toronto, the host Jays once again won it in the ninth inning. Sanders registered hits in his first three at-bats against Toronto starter Juan Guzman, including a one-out double in the top of the sixth. Two batters later, he scored the tying run on a Justice single.
Sanders sat out Game 4, which was yet another tight affair. Jimmy Key and two relievers outdueled future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in a 2-1 victory. Cox then reinserted Sanders into the two-hole in Game 5 and the left-fielder once again responded with two hits. His two-out single in the top of the fifth inning scored Otis Nixon to put Atlanta up, 3-2. Three batters later, Lonnie Smith blasted a grand-slam that sent the Braves on their way to a 7-2 win that kept the series alive.
The decisive Game 6 in Atlanta would take place over 11 innings. Sanders started in that two-spot in left field and again recorded two hits. Following his one-out double in the bottom of the third inning off Cone, Sanders stole third and then scored on a Terry Pendleton sacrifice fly to even the score at 1-1.
With two outs and a man on first in the bottom of the seventh and the Blue Jays ahead, 2-1, Jays skipper Cito Gaston brought in southpaw David Wells to face the lefty-hitting Sanders. In response, Cox opted to pinch-hit with Ron Gant, removing Sanders from the game. Toronto would ultimately get a two-run double in the top of the 11th from Hall of Famer Dave Winfield to win a dramatic 4-3 contest and capture the first-ever World Series title in franchise history.
As with his overall individual playing career, Sanders enjoyed more team success with his 1994-95 Super Bowl appearances, winning NFL championships with both San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIX and the following year with Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.
In 1994, his fourth-quarter interception of San Diego Chargers backup quarterback Gale Gilbert with about 10 minutes left put the icing on the cake of a 49-26 victory for the 49ers. In 1995, in addition to his work as a cornerback and return man, Sanders caught a 47-yard pass from Troy Aikman in the first quarter to set up the first touchdown of the game for Dallas. The Cowboys went on to a 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On October 11, 1992, Sanders started at right cornerback with the Atlanta Falcons in their 21-17 loss to the host Miami Dolphins. He caught a pass and also returned two kicks and a punt. He then hopped a plane, flew to Pittsburgh, and suited up with the Braves for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Cox held him out of that NLCS game, but the effort perfectly demonstrated Sanders’ desire to compete that went along with his natural talents.
When the Super Bowl kicks off tomorrow, there will be a team from Philadelphia competing for the championship, just as there was with the World Series three months ago. But no player from that 2022 Fall Classic will pull on the pads. That has only been done by one player — by “Prime Time,” Deion Sanders.