Commentary

What's Deion Sanders' claim to Fame?

Newest Hall member left mark with multiple franchises, insists he belongs to 'nobody'

Updated: August 6, 2011, 11:40 PM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- There really is no debating Deion Sanders' Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials.

[+] EnlargeDeion Sanders
Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty ImagesDeion Sanders spent five seasons with the Cowboys, winning a Super Bowl ring and picking off 14 passes.

In a 14-year career with Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, Washington and Baltimore, Sanders intercepted 53 passes. He scored touchdowns on punt returns, kickoff returns, interception returns and even had a fumble return for a score. He caught three touchdown passes as a wide receiver.

He was named an All-Pro nine times at cornerback. Eight times he was named to the Pro Bowl. He was named to the 1990s All-Decade Team and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1994.

So Saturday's selection for induction into the Hall of Fame was a confirmation of what was already known by many more than the 44 voters that decided to bestow the honor on Sanders.

But is Sanders a Cowboy as he goes into the Hall of Fame? He played just as many seasons with the Falcons, and his presentation Saturday was made by the Hall of Fame voters from Atlanta (Len Pasquarelli) and Dallas (Rick Gosselin).

Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., players do not go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of a team.

So to whom does Sanders belong?

What's your lasting image of Sanders? Is he wearing a black Falcons jersey? Is he wearing a San Francisco jersey? Does he have the star on the side of his helmet? Sorry, Washington and Baltimore, you don't really get a vote.

Sanders played in only 63 games for the Cowboys in 1995-99. He earned a championship ring in 1995 after Dallas beat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX. He intercepted 14 passes as a Cowboy. His best season came in 1998, when he had five. He was named a first-team All-Pro in four of his five seasons. He was named to the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons.

[+] EnlargeDeion Sanders
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWith the Falcons, Deion Sanders emerged as a star during his five-year stay. He would cash in on his stardom via free agency.

Sanders was one of the first players to benefit from unfettered free agency in the NFL. He left the Falcons to be a one-year hired gun in San Francisco in 1994, winning a Super Bowl. He signed a seven-year, $35 million contract that including a then-record $12.99 million bonus with the Cowboys that forced the NFL to change the contractual language because it was viewed as an end-around on the salary cap.

He cashed in one last time in 2000 with Washington (seven years, $56 million, $8 million bonus) and played with the Redskins for only one season. He ended his career with Baltimore as a reserve in 2004-05.

"I don't consider myself nobody," Sanders told ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins last week. "I consider myself a man of many colors."

Take away Emmitt Smith's two years in Arizona and the one year Bob Hayes and Tony Dorsett spent in San Francisco and Denver, respectively, and the 10 players already inducted into the Hall of Fame built their resumes almost exclusively with the Cowboys. Bob Lilly, Roger Staubach, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Rayfield Wright, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin did not play another snap for another team.

Herb Adderley, Lance Alworth, Mike Ditka, Tommy McDonald and Jackie Smith combined to spend 11 years with the Cowboys after putting up Hall of Fame numbers elsewhere.

Sanders isn't quite in the first group, which should keep him out of a Ring of Honor spot, and he is not really part of the second group either.

"He'll be remembered as what he wants to be remembered as," Smith said. "It's up to him as far as I'm concerned. He's a great player. That's what the Hall of Fame is about, great players. It doesn't necessarily say greatest Falcon or greatest Cowboy or greatest 49er. You were a great football player. That jersey he wears right now doesn't have a star on it. It doesn't have a Falcon on it and it definitely doesn't have a Niner on it.

"It has one color and that's that yellow jacket we have right now with that patch that says Hall of Fame. That's all that matters."

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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