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One and Only
Tim Crothers
January 22, 1996
Torn between two sports in his quest for fame and fortune, Brian Jordan finally cast his lot with the baseball Cardinals
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January 22, 1996

One And Only

Torn between two sports in his quest for fame and fortune, Brian Jordan finally cast his lot with the baseball Cardinals

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Forgive Brian Jordan if he feels as if he has been shortchanged in the fame department. He is a professional athlete who has excelled in two sports and is convinced that nobody has ever heard of him. Either one of him.

This relative anonymity helps to explain why, on a Sunday afternoon in December, Jordan is grumbling at the television in his Stone Mountain, Ga., living room as he watches the entire Atlanta Falcon secondary chase an opposing receiver into the end zone. "How do you leave a guy that wide open?" Jordan asks. "Brian Jordan would never have let that happen. But who's Brian Jordan, right?"

It should be noted here that Jordan played safety for the Falcons from 1989 through '91, before he started playing the outfield for the St. Louis Cardinals in '92. Four months ago he nearly closed a deal that would have turned him into a football player again.

Under a self-imposed deadline Jordan resolved his athletic future last Sept. 22. He was near the end of a breakthrough baseball season in which he would hit .296 with 22 home runs, 81 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. He was playing on a one-year contract, and throughout the summer he had been screening videotapes of his days as a ferocious defensive back with the Falcons. In late July he had even visited the St. Louis Rams' training camp, fueling speculation that he might shuttle between two sports in the same city the way his friend and former teammate Deion Sanders once did in Atlanta. On his first day back on the diamond after visiting the Rams, Jordan hit two home runs against the New York Mets.

In early September, when the Cards' initial offer of a new three-year contract worth $7.3 million was not to Jordan's liking, his football agent, Jim Steiner, informed every NFL team that Jordan was putting himself on the market. Several clubs expressed interest, including the Rams, but the Oakland Raiders made the most enticing offer: $1.25 million prorated for the remaining games of the '95 season. Jordan's wife, Pam, mentioned how she preferred living without him for just the 16 games of a football season rather than the 162-game baseball schedule. His mother, Betty, voted for baseball because there was less risk of injury. His dad, Alvin, advised his son, "Show the world that you're the best at both sports. Take in all that glory."

With Pam and his two children, Brianna, 4, and Bryson, 1, in mind, Jordan decided he didn't want to play sports year-round. But it would be up to the Cardinals, who had until Sept. 22 to make him a convincing contract proposal, to determine which sport he played. Less than two hours before St. Louis's game in Houston that night, Cardinal general manager Walt Jocketty ushered Jordan into an office in the Astrodome. He offered Jordan a three-year contract worth $10 million, including incentives, to play baseball exclusively. Jordan signed the agreement immediately. He was so distracted by the sudden development that he was caught stealing twice that night.

Jordan says that if the Cards had not come through, he would have accepted an offer the next morning to become a safety with the Raiders and possibly would not have returned to baseball. Instead, it is his football career that is effectively over. "People wonder how I could turn down playing both sports, but I'm a family man, and I had to do what I thought was best for my wife and kids," Jordan says. "It was the hardest decision I've ever made, but I didn't want to devote my whole life to sports. You live a lot longer in baseball. I know. When I played football I tried to knock people's heads off."

Just then, Jordan's graphic summation is interrupted by a television commercial, featuring Sanders, now with the Dallas Cowboys, and a pizza. In the commercial, Cowboy owner Jerry Jones turns to Sanders and asks, "What's it gonna be, Deion, football or baseball?"

"Both," Deion replies.

Jordan scoops Brianna into his lap and grins.

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