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Deion vs. PrimeTime

Deion Sanders and Prime Time keep bouncing off of each other like the doctor named Henry Jekyll does with Mr. Edward Hyde. Two personalities hang out in one body. Deion is the thoughtful family man, the avid fisherman, the teammate known for his work ethic. Prime Time is about sass and jewelry and limousines and, always, flash on stage.

Sometimes, as with a foggy horizon, the line is obscured. Mystery attracts company if not money. Sybil kept them guessing, too.

Deion is the two-sport athlete, the only man to play in the Super Bowl and World Series. Prime Time is his hype-mongering marketing man. Deion intercepts passes. Prime Time looks back and high-steps into the end zone.

Both wear sunglasses indoors. Deion now makes $5million year playing football. Prime Time makes millions out of the arena. One is private, one public. Deion rounded up some 35 Super Bowl tickets in January for friends back home in Fort Myers, Florida. Prime Time cut a rap album early this year featuring the single Must Be The Money.

Both wear jewelry so abundant that its weight must be measured by the freight scale. Deion homered and scored a touchdown in the same week. Prime Time hosted Saturday Night Live. Prime Time likes nightclubs. Deion prefers the fishing pond and doting on his children, Deion Jr. And Deiondra. Prime Time travels with entourage. Deion is a mamaís boy who wasnít close to his troubled, late father until the end. Both bought a home in Plano that was listed for $2.9 million, right around the corner from Fred Couples.

Deion Suited up for an NFL game and a baseball playoff game in the same day. Prime time sells the commercials. Deion insists heís real. Prime Time wouldnít dare. Oneís rap is that he doesnít like to hit and tackle. The otherís rap passes for music.

Both wear boxer shorts picturing $100 bills.

Deion dislikes the nickname Neon. Prime Time lives for bright bulbs. Deion declined repeated requests from The Dallas Morning News for an extended interview, citing a desire to avoid being a distraction to his teammates. Prime Time shows up on network TV and magazine covers. Deion is sensitive to criticism. Prime Time doesnít let on. So it must have been Deion who poured water on broadcaster Tim McCarver on national television.

Neither, of course, goes anywhere without the cellular phone.

You know the difference between want and need? For whatever reasons, Deion wants Prime Time as a persona. As for Prime Time, he needs Deion, or he doesnít exist. Iguana Mirage nightclub, Thursday night in September: Deion Sanders, in town to mansion hunt, stopped in with fellow jewelry exhibit Michael Irvin.

"He was very quiet," said Chris Arnold, the radio-television personality who emcees Thursday parties at the club. "Very quiet, it was like he was taking in all in." Iguana Mirage nightclub, Thursday night in October: Electricity jolts through the place for the announced party welcoming Deion "Prime Time" Sanders to Dallas. An overflow crowd of mostly women crams shoulder to shoulder into the 1,300-capacity club. An estimated 3,000 more, mostly women, wait outside at various times, lined up for blocks.

Police end up barricading the parking lot. News crews equipped with TV satellite trucks set up. Inside, Prime Time posters decorate walls and life-size Prime Time cutouts dot the room. Anticipation and energy build as if the heavyweight champion is en route to the ring or a rock star is arriving.

Is that him? Is he here? Whenís he coming? At 10:40 p.m., Prime Time, accompanied by an entourage of at least six, makes a movie star appearance. Dressed in a purple jacket, black top hat and, this is redundant, dripping jewelry, he heads for a roped-off VIP section. Music blares, the place rocks and Prime time slow dances with wife Carolyn. And Arnold, mike in hand, lets everybody know what they already had figured: "Deion in the house! Prime Time, welcome to Big D."

Emmit Smith walks in at 10:50. An animated Prime Time grabs the mike at 11:05 and rap-talks with the crowd. At 11:10 he breaks into a rap song. Surrounded by his entourage, he mingles with the masses. A few ticks after midnight, heís up on the center stage, as he had requested, singing three of his rap songs, including Prime Time Keeps on Ticking and gyrating through an aerobic workout fit for weight reduction.

"He was a whirlwind," Arnold said later, shaking his head. "People just wanted to see him with their own eyes. It was like Michael Jackson or something."

Teammates turn out to see it-Smith, Irvin, Leon Lett, Shante Carver, Kevin Williams, Ray Donaldson, Louis Burrell-MC Hammerís brother, president of Busted Records, the label for Prime Timeís rap album-and rapper Eric B. accompany him, too. And Jamal Mashburn stops in for a look.

By 1:30 a.m., Prime Time still is in the party mood-though he drinks water, not alcohol-and lines of people still wait outside in hopes of getting a glimpse at the man who wants to be an entertainer and movie star when heís done playing sports. "I want to thank everybody for welcoming me to Dallas," Prime time said into the microphone. "Iím so glad I decided to come to Dallas." Wade Hummel, as a football assistant at North Fort Myers High School, coached Deion Sanders about a decade ago. This was before all the jewelry and commercials and rap songs. This was long before the Iguana Mirage.

"Deion is a very humble kid," Hummel said. "Very humble and sensitive." Humble? Then what was Abe Lincoln? Humble? Like Howard Cosell? "When he came to our spring practice two years ago, I had to beg him to give a talk to our players," Hummel said. "He didnít want to do it. He was shy about it. If he were Prime Time, itíd be, ĎSure, old man. Thatís cool. Damn straight.í " The humble one is getting dressed after a recent Cowboys home game. Most people slip on a shirt when they get dressed. Deion puts on a jewelry store. The queen might have a few more bucks, but the jewels competition might be a push. Around his neck are two large gold chains with diamond-studded 21ís dangling at the bottom. Two gold and diamond bracelets circle his right wrist. A diamond-studded Rolex watch and another bracelet decorate the left wrist. Matching horseshoe earrings hang from his lobes.

" He wears the best of everything," Connie Knight would say later about a son who earned an estimated $11 million from sports endorsements last year. "His jewelry costs big, big money.

Decked with all that and matching black-white tops and slacks, a black cap on backwards and black patent-leather and suede shoes, he grabs his Louis Vuitton bag, gets in the passenger side of a Chevrolet Geneva in the tunnel outside the Texas Stadium locker room, and pulls out the cellular.

Clearly weíre out of the Red Grange era. Deion Sanders, the new Dallas Cowboy, is on the radio a recent afternoon. Heís a guest deejay on K-104, and heís taking calls. One listener asks about his boyhood heroes.

Deion lists the three people and three reasons: Hank Aaron, because of baseball skill: Julius Erving, because of the grace with which he carried himself; and O.J. Simpson, because his teammates cared so much for him.

Then he advised anyone prone to idolatry.

"Donít be like me," Deion Sanders said. "Be better than me. I made some mistakes in life." Ok, so he hasnít always been a Boy Scout on the way to the Cowboysí vault. The kid didnít escape trouble when he threw that milk can on the roof. And he was kicked off his high school football team seven games into his junior year for being disrespectful to a teacher in the library. And he blew off classes and final exams his senior year at Florida State.

Carlton Fisk panned him once for disgracing the Yankee pinstripes. When Falcon fans booed him for returning a kickoff seven yards as a rookie, he exacerbated the matter by saying heíd be home counting his money while people went off to their silly little jobs.

And at times pundits have referred to him as Crime Time.

He pleaded no contest following charges of battery following a dispute with a sales clerk at a Fort Myers jewelry store on Christmas Eve 1988. Six monthsí probation followed.

The next year he got arrested on misdemeanor charges of assault when he went after two fans who he claimed were harassing his girlfriend at a minor league baseball game in Richmond, VA. Charges later were dismissed as part of a settlement in which Sanders agreed to donate money for handicapped seating at the Richmond ballpark. But Sanders was sentenced to 100 hours of community service work for violation of probation.

"Be better than me," Deion said on the radio. Perception and reality sometimes donít intersect. Connie Knight refers to her son as " a quiet, laid-back, nice kid."

"Iíve never had any problems with him,í she said. Heís a family man. Heís different than from what people think he is. People look at him and think heís not nice."

Nice is the word used to describe him back home. He got Super Bowl tickets for those 35 friends and former coaches last January. He purchases shoes for the sports teams at North Fort Myers High. He makes it a point to go back and visit the school where he was an ROTC commander. Back there, the word on Deion is that he doesnít drink, smoke, do drugs or swear-damn and hell excluded.

"If you talk to anybody who coached him or taught him, youíd find heís genuinely a nice guy and a hard worker," said Ted Ferreira, Sandersí high school baseball coach. "I canít say enough about him."

Rangers outfielder Otis Nixon, once a Sanders teammate with the Atlanta Braves , and Cowboys defensive back Scott Case, a former Sanders teammate with the Atlanta Falcons, likewise KO perception.

"Once you get on the field, you realize he works as hard anybody else," Case said. "On the outer perimeter, a lot of people think heís a prima donna, but heís not. He doesnít expect to be treated any differently."

Said Nixon, "Heís got a big heart and caring side. He reached out to kids in the [Atlanta] community. And when I went through my troubles (substance abuse treatment), Deion was the one besides my family who supported me most. He visited me on a regular basis when I went through my treatment program." Prime time has anything but dime store tastes. The jewelry doesnít come out of gumball machines. The threads are stamped with designer labels. Is there any wonder autographs are signed "Deion Sanders"?

"He has the best of everything," mom says. That would include houses and cars. He might be more into cars than jewelry, if thatís possible. He owns about a dozen automobiles. Thereís the $250,000 Lamborghini Diablo he bought as a present to himself for reaching Januaryís Super Bowl. Thereís the RX7 two-seater that cost six figures. His lot also features three Mercedes-Benzes, a Lincoln, a Suburban, a truck, and what his mother describes as "three or four old models."

Then thereís the old LeBaron he had when he was in college. "He keeps that to remember when he was poor," Connie Knight said. Then there are the Mercedes and Lexus he got for mother. On one, the plate reads "Ms. Time." He doesnít scrimp on houses, either. Like the dream home and personal sports complex heís building on 85 acres outside Atlanta. Or the house in Plano he bought soon after he received the $13 million signing bonus from the Cowboys. Or the million-dollar, 10,500-square-foot, seven-bedroom home he bought for his mother in Fort Myers-the one with PRIME TIME in triplicate at the bottom of the pool out back.

Deion Sanders has said he wants to be known as a great father. Thereís an apparent reason behind that goal. Like many, he has a father issue from his childhood. Mims Sanders left the family household soon after Deion was born. This was in Dunbar, a tough part of Fort Myers where the path to jail was much more likely than one to college.

Connie remarried when Deion was in grade school. She raised her son and daughter while cleaning hospital rooms for a living. Meanwhile, Mims Sanders lived the life of a drug addict. When he died of a brain tumor in 1993, Deion left the Atlanta Braves for the funeral and didnít come back for three weeks. Even now, you can find MS on the wristbands of Deion Sanders On his way to becoming the NFLí best cornerback and 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the year, Deion Sanders became Prime Time in high school. Teammate Richard Fain, who also would graduate to the NFL gave him the nickname after watching him perform not in football or baseball, but in basketball.

He was a three-sport star then, known for speed and work ethic. He was a point guard who once pinned an opponentís lay-up six inches from the top of the backboard in a playoff game. He was a Wishbone quarterback in football. As a prep baseball center fielder , he was a draft choice of the Kansas City Royals.

Baseball kept him away from track in the spring in high school and college-except for one legendary day at Florida State. That day a track sprinter couldnít compete, so Sanders, playing base nearby, filled in. Running in baseball pants, he ran the anchor leg of a relay. And won. Vincent Van Goghís paint could make canvas come alive, but marketing wasnít his strength. He sold only one painting during his lifetime. Then thereís Prime Time. He skipped classes at Florida State, but he could teach some marketing to the tweed coats at Harvard.

"We sat down and said, what do we have to do to get my mother her dream house and make sure she never has to work again?" Deion Sanders has said. "Ding! Prime Time! Letís create it. And thatís what we did." His friends have noticed. "All those things you see and read about and hear about-thatís a gimmick to get more money," Hummel said, echoing Sandersí mother and others. Cha-ching,cha-ching.

"Thereís no doubt about it," Case says. "Heís a guy who brags on himself like not many athletes do. Thereís a definite aura around him."

Prime Time fishes for fame. That goes back to college, when he wore a tuxedo to his final game and pulled up in a stretch limo. Deion merely fishes. Sanders has said he would like to be the first black to host a fishing show on ESPN. He has said he dreams of fishing for stocked bass all day at his dream house near Atlanta. This is his passion the public doesnít see. Fishing to him is the ultimate in good relaxation.

"And," says Case, " he doesnít even have a gold-plated rod."

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