Deion Sanders: The greatest multi-sport athlete of all time?

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Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders both competed in the NFL and the MLB and were both arguably the best to ever do it as multi-sport athletes. In the sports world, it is extremely rare to find one athlete who competes at the top professional level of two different sports, especially in the same time period. There have only been seven total athletes to play two professional sports, but none of the other five can compare to these two stars. Bo Jackson was a star running back for the Oakland Raiders, and he also played outfield for the Kansas City Royals. Deion Sanders played cornerback for five NFL teams (the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and Baltimore Ravens) and played outfield for four MLB teams (the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants).

Although Bo Jackson’s career took an abrupt halt after a career-ending injury, Deion was still the better athlete, and here is why:

Sanders had greater longevity playing in both sports than any other athlete in history, competing in Major League Baseball from 1989 to 2001 and in the NFL from 1989 to 2005. With his 14-season, 188-game career with five NFL teams, Deion scored a total of six punt return touchdowns, three TDs on kickoff returns, and returned nine scoring interceptions. He also returned one TD fumble and had 60 catches for 784 yards and 3 TDs . He recorded 53 career interceptions in all, also adding the five that he had at the Baltimore Ravens following his three-year retirement. Sanders, a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s as both a cornerback and a punt returner, led the NFL with a 15.6 average in punt returns in 1998. In 1992, he also led the NFC in kickoffs and 1991 and 1993 for interceptions. 

Throughout his career, Sanders was more widely regarded as a “shutdown corner” despite his awe-inspiring talents as a returning man. In addition to receiving All-NFL honors by some media outlets as a kick returner in 1992 and as a punt returner in 1998, he was named first-team All-Pro nine times at cornerback. During his career, he was also named to eight Pro Bowls. In interception return yardage (1,331), Sanders retired second all-time and tied for second for most interceptions returned for a career touchdown with 9 and a season with three. At the time of his retirement, his career-high 303 yards gained on interception returns with the 49ers in 1994 was third-best ever in the NFL. He also returned three touchdown picks (74, 93, 90 yards) that season in order to be the first individual ever to have two 90-yard touchdown interception returns in the same season. Deion also finished his career with two Super Bowl victories on his back. After retirement, Deion still possesses the main title of the best man-to-man cornerback to ever play in the NFL.

Although Deion’s career as a football player was highly above average, so were his skills at baseball. During the 1989 season, he hit a Major League home run and scored a touchdown in the NFL in the same week, becoming the only player ever to do so. Sanders is also the only man to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. In 1989, Sanders played mainly in the minor league system of the New York Yankees but was called up for 14 games in the majors that summer. He was released and then signed by the Atlanta Braves after recording a .158 batting average in 57 games with the Yankees in 1990. In 1992, the fast outfielder had the best season of his baseball career, hitting .304 with a league-leading 14 triples as he helped the Braves reach the World Series (a six-game loss to the Toronto Blue Jays). He was traded during the 1994 season to the Cincinnati Reds, as well as during the 1995 season to the San Francisco Giants. Sanders had one-year stints with the Reds in 1997 and 2001 before retiring from baseball after not participating in 1996. After his playing days were over, he spent time on ESPN as a television football analyst, and in 2011, Deion Sanders was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

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Bo Jackson: the greatest multi-sport athlete of all time?