October 17, 1994

'NEON' LIGHTS UP GEORGIA DOME

By Mark Kreidler
McClatchy News Service

ATLANTA -- The thing was, you could see it coming. Not it: him. You see Deion Sanders coming because this is a guy you cannot possibly miss, because this is the biggest, brashest, gnarliest, most compelling, most arrogant, most ridiculous, most amazing man to play professional football since Joe by-gawd Willie Namath.

So you could see it, Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome. The play of the game, a 42-3 trashing of the Falcons by the San Francisco 49ers -- a trashing by Deion -- developed in slow motion right up to the instant that Sanders became involved; and then it got over in about a second and a half.

And everything else is epilogue.

"He creates his own drama, you know?" 49ers quarterback Steve Young said. "That thing with Andre, getting the crowd into it, the interference call - you're thinking, 'What's he doing?'

"He's setting them up - that's what he's doing."

It happened Sunday, and how could it not? Here was Sanders, returning to the place of his commercial birth, to the city that embraced him as the one man who could play two sports and get away with it - baseball for the Braves, football for the Falcons.

He returned to the city that bore him, that boos him now. He showed up at the Georgia Dome and the fans howled; and then he mixed it up with his old teammate, Falcons receiver Andre Rison, in one of the dumbest, ugliest brawls never to get a guy ejected.

The two had been jawing all week, the usual sort of ex-player gunk; and when it got personal on the field, they just went wild. Rison was chucking Sanders; Deion became a prizefighter.

Rison: "If you watch the tapes, you'll see I had my head down and was just blocking."

Sanders: "If you watched the replay, he came after me."

You watched the tape, and what it showed was two pros making asses of themselves on national television.

So here was Deion Sanders, who by now should have been thrown out of the game; and here was the Georgia Dome crowd, incited to riot, in full-tilt Neon frenzy. And here, with the 49ers trying to nurse a 21-3 lead to the half, came the Falcons moving smoothly down the field; and it was Sanders who committed the crucial foul, pushing off Rison to prevent a reception near the end zone, giving Atlanta a first-and-goal.

And on third down, Atlanta quarterback Jeff George backpedaled and looked to his left; and you could see it coming. Not it: him. George didn't see; all he saw was receiver Ricky Sanders, apparently wide open.

George released the ball ... the ball drifted toward the sideline ... the Falcons' receiver waited for it ... Deion Sanders.

He came out of the corner of your eye, and he disappeared from your peripheral vision in one blink. He stepped in front of that ball with acceleration unparalleled in the sport. He strained a muscle in his groin at the 7-yard line and still practically danced the 93 yards it took to turn this touchdown into that one.

Oh, he yapped. He talked to the Falcons along the sideline while running out the touchdown. He talked to Rison before, during, after. He talked to the fans. He strutted into his postgame rock concert of an interview and screamed: "Damn it, I told them! This is my house!"

But, look, it's all Deion's house, now. This league is one big house. You get beyond the carnival barker and what you find is the real deal; and no one will ever, ever be able to miss him again.