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Meanwhile, Sanders was establishing himself as one of the most versatile college athletes of this or any other age. Recruited out of high school in Fort Myers, Fla., where he was a lefthanded option quarterback, Sanders switched to defense at Florida State because the Seminoles featured a pro passing attack and, Sanders says, "anybody can play wide receiver: I wanted to be special."
The 6-foot, 185-pounder scored six career touchdowns on punt or interception returns. He was a two-time All-America, and as a senior he led the country in punt runbacks with a 15.2-yard average and won the Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the country. Sanders played for a national championship not only in football (during the '87 season, when Florida State beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl 31-28 but wound up ranked No. 2 behind undefeated Miami), but also in baseball (the '87 College World Series, where Florida State finished fifth); and in track (running on the 400-meter relay team at the '88 NCAA track and field tournament, though the team failed to place). He once played in a Metro Conference tournament baseball game, ran to the track to help win a relay race while still wearing his baseball pants, then raced back to the diamond in time to get the hit that won the second game of the doubleheader. The victories clinched the 1987-88 Metro all-sports trophy for Florida State.
Sanders' favorite sport is, natch, basketball. Extra concrete is being poured just now in Alpharetta for a court, full-length. "If I'd wanted, I could have signed with the Lakers," he says.
Away from his athletic pursuits, Sanders usually is in the close company of "my boys, Heckle and Jeckle"—Jerry Ashley, a friend from Fort Myers High, and Aubrey Parrish, a crony from Florida State. With Ashley (the one in the metallic-braid shades) and Parrish (diamond earrings, gold tooth)—who now serve as sort of aides-de-campy—and with "my female," Sanders is thoughtful, caring, polite, quiet. So what if Ms. Female, Chambers, mostly impersonates a chambermaid, answering his phone, cutting his food, fetching his clothes? "C? Yo, C? What color tint did I tell you to order on the car windows?" Sanders called out to his mate the other day. Deion's in the NFL, not the NOW.
Chambers describes a courting that mirrors precisely Sanders' entire M.O. "He walked up to the car I was sitting in and asked my name," Chambers says. "He said his was Prime Time. I said, yeah, I really believe that! The only time I went to a football game was to watch the Florida A & M band at halftime, then I'd leave. I'd never heard of him. If I had, I know I'd have thought he was some awful jerk. I didn't give him my phone number, but I called him that week. Our first date we just talked all night. We've been together every single day. Hey, I'm no bimbo hang-around. I've modeled in Miami. I cook for my baby [uh, that's Deion]. I chose this life. What I love about Deion is he is always a perfect gentleman. You like this leather coat?"
Sanders' mother still lives in Fort Myers with her second husband, Willie Knight, and Deion's 13-year-old sister, Tracie. "Deion's always been a shy boy," says Connie Knight. "And sure enough, mannerable." Knight and Chambers haven't always gotten along. In a recent issue of Special Reports magazine, Constance was quoted as saying, "When a boy can't bring his girl home to his mama, you know she must be trash." But they've made their peace since.
"Deion's first girlfriend was so close to the family, but because she was white, I didn't see any threat," says Connie. "I still think the boy's too young to be settled in, he should date more. But there's so much out there...you know, it's dangerous. I worry about gold diggers and such. You know, nobody's good enough for your baby. But I've prayed to God to let me find a way to like Carolyn. I think she's O.K. now."
"We were out eating the other night with Deion's mom," says Chambers. "She's very sweet. She said she orders from the menu for her man too."
Putting on the world takes a toll, of course. Before Florida State's 20-17 victory over Auburn in last season's Sugar Bowl—which Sanders would save with an end zone interception with five seconds remaining—Deion was arrested for causing a disturbance in, wouldn't you know it, a juray shop, was carted off to jail and had to pay an $800 fine. He says a salesgirl "thought I was a drug dealer because of my clothes." The salesgirl claimed he tried to steal a pair of $25 earrings. "Sure," says Sanders. "There's no way. I'm Prime Time. I was carrying a thousand in my pocket."
Then one night last summer, admittedly frustrated by his status in Triple A baseball and by the stalled negotiations with the Falcons, Sanders went after a couple of fans in Richmond, Va., who he said were harassing Chambers. Claims of assault, and later lawsuits, flew back and forth. Sanders was arrested briefly and forced to put up a $5,000 bond before all charges were dropped.