In his first nine weeks, Sanders also intercepted three passes, anchored Atlanta's kickoff unit, chased down Rams wide receiver Ron Brown—an Olympic 400-meter relay gold medal winner—from behind to save a touchdown, was consistently among the NFC leaders in punt returns and would have led outright in kick returns if that 96-yarder had held up. His remarkable speed—at Florida State, Sanders was once timed in pads at a stunning 4.21 for the 40-yard dash—has even gotten a rise out of the Falcons' 60-year-old coach, Marion Campbell. "A real doer. I like this guy," Campbell says. "He's a takeaway guy, a weapon."
Similarly, the Falcons' serene defensive backfield coach, Fred Bruney, has gotten past Sanders' jive style and loquacious audacity to recognize the new kid's work ethic, his communicable spirit and extraordinary will to win. "I've never seen a guy with such athletic ability. And Deion throws his body around like it was somebody else's," says Bruney.
Just as important, surely by now any fool for juray must realize, Deion Sanders—even when his black leathers are unzipped to half-mast and those snake-skin-striped sunglasses are tight below the oil-slick Geri curls and the five black-on-black vehicles, each equipped with a cellular phone, are lined up in the driveway with the personalized plate on the Mercedes reading JUS GOT PAID and the one on Chambers's new Bronco revealing MS. TIME—has turned into one of the greatest self-hypes on the planet.
What all the button-down NFL earthlings should do is sit back, relax and let Sanders, 22 going on 14, have fun. Let him swing and sway. Let him shuck and jive. Above all, let Deion be on. Let him get the ball in his hands and play. Of course, he's an act. Of course, he's two people. He's even got two languages, street and smart. Nobody could be so blatantly ridiculous au naturel. On this point, Deion is right-on.
"Hey, all my life I be the man," he says. "I mean, I've been in the spotlight at every level. It's just a bigger spotlight. I learned the system in college. How do you think defensive backs get attention? How do you think Jim McMahon made so many millions? They don't pay nobody to be humble. Some people will come out to see me do well. Some people will come out to see me get run over. But love me or hate me, they're going to come out. I'm a businessman now, and the product is me. Prime Time. I'm the first defensive back to make a million dollars a year. Set a record for a bonus. Cash up front."
In fact, Zucker insisted the Falcons add $10,000 above the signing bonus Green Bay paid tackle Tony Mandarich the day before Sanders signed. Sanders is also one of only a handful of NFL players—including William Perry of the Chicago Bears and Vinnie Testaverde of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—who have individual licensing agreements with NFL Properties; he gets a percentage of every NFL novelty sold bearing his name or number.
"But the true me?" says Sanders. "You think Michael Jackson sit in that room wearing that white glove all day long? No he don't. You think Eddie Murphy go around cursing everybody out 24 hours a day? No he don't."
Privately, at home—a new, $500,000, pink-stucco Mediterranean-style house in a subdivision cut out of the cow fields of suburban Alpharetta, Ga.—with his shades off and his terrific teeth gleaming, Sanders is a child wondering if the neighbors will complain that he had a satellite dish constructed in the backyard woods. He goes fishing in a nearby lake with the kid next door. The first thing he shows a visitor is the skeleton of what will be his massive "toy room" in the basement. "I love toys," he says. "Model trains, those remote cars, all kinds of tracks." In his rhythm-pounding den, the featured accoutrements—next to the CD player and the TV—are four ceramic raisin guys and gals from the Saturday morning cartoons.
When Lynn Swann visited the Falcon camp for a Monday Night Football half-time interview, Sanders was in absolute awe. "I couldn't believe it," Deion said. "My mom and I watched this guy when I was little and here he was right there in the same room with me." Before the Falcons' game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 24, Eric Dickerson came over to wish Sanders luck. Deion asked Dickerson to send him an autographed picture.
This from the same fellow who pretty much spit on propriety at Florida State. Sanders set records in Tallahassee for on-field trash talk. Regularly he critiqued opposing players' routes: "Boy, you keep runnin' that sloppy stuff, you goin' to Arena Football." At halftime of a 59-0 victory at South Carolina, Sanders told the Gamecock fans they should ask for their money back. He showed up for the game against traditional rival Florida, at Tallahassee, last year in a tuxedo and a white stretch limo. Florida receivers, he once said, "must think I'm God." He and Gator Ricky Nattiel—now a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos—engaged in a bitter competition that lasts to this day. "If I see him in the pros, I'll probably kill him," says Sanders. Preparing for a punt return on the road at Clemson, he pointed and shouted over to the Tiger bench: "This one's going back!" Then he toasted the defense, whirling 76 yards for the touchdown, after which he struck a long pose for the end zone fans and screamed, "How you like me now?"