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Sanders' Atlanta teammates were understandably concerned about the flamboyant new Falcon. It didn't help matters when Sanders announced that those players who were suspicious of him "hadn't had the privilege of knowing me."
"Some people around here thought Deion was a loudmouth, selfish, egotistical fool," says Falcon cornerback Bobby Butler, the respected nine-year veteran from Florida State who knew Sanders from their school connections and whose job Sanders would take in Week 6. "I had to reassure them he was a good guy, just the opposite of the image."
"It wasn't that Deion was actually any more serious than the hype," says Falcon guard Jamie Dukes, who played with Sanders at FSU. "Just that he wasn't the president of the jerk-of-the-month club or a major——like Brian Bosworth still is. I knew he kept that Prime Time crap out of the locker room. But I had to do a selling job with the guys. I told them, 'If Bosworth can make a million off a haircut, why can't this kid do it with his jewelry and his clothes?' "
Given his obnoxious, thundering-rap rep, Sanders has bent over backward to ingratiate himself with his new teammates on the Falcons, as he did with the Yankees. The punt return for a touchdown right out of the box helped. His gifts of Gucci watches to the 10 other Falcons on the return squad didn't hurt his cause, either.
The Boz? The truth is, Sanders is the real Boz; a Boz with the goodz, a Boz who can play. Sanders is an electrifying presence. He is a Gretzky, a Bird. "In 27 years in this league I've never experienced the buzz that goes through a stadium when this guy gets near the football," says Campbell.
Sanders bristles at suggestions of a Bosworth parallel. "I am not to be compared to no Bosworth," Deion says. "I've never copied anybody. I've been a star all my life. Why, I was Prime Time in high school. A buddy [Richard Fain, now a cornerback at Florida] named me that after a basketball game. I got 30, dunkin' over everybody. I had 'Prime Time' on my license plate the first day I arrived in Tallahassee. I said I wanted my own poster right then. I was scoring touchdowns in Pop Warner ball at eight years old! I got the films to prove it. Don't go talkin' no Bosworth bulljunk around here."
So if not Boz, Deion, then who?
"I'm real. Like the Godfather, the legend, James Brown. We're talkin' real. Like James...I'm real."
Kids have the darndest role models.
In fact, it was a shadowy adult figure back on the streets of Fort Myers who first got Sanders into all his glitter. This "uncle," says Sanders, was a fashionably dressed, glamorous, jewelry-laden guy from "the other side" who showed Deion right from wrong and kept him away from drugs. "See, in my hometown, that was the community job," says Sanders. "You graduated from high school to the streets and became a drug dealer. But this was a great dude, man. He showed me all about the juray." Only later does Deion's mother confirm that the family friend was himself a drug dealer who has spent time in jail.