Back during the summer of 2004 when the news began to filter down that Deion Sanders was considering a comeback, I like many of you believed it to be a publicity stunt. Here was Deion Sanders, ousted from the American Sportsman host role and booted from the set of CBS’ NFL Today because he wanted more money than CBS believed he deserved.
What better way to revive a derailed career than to make a comeback in the NFL? And what better team than the Ravens whose roster included all Deion’s “little brothers?” There’s nothing like the spotlight for an attention junkie like Prime Time, or so I thought. Yet when the official word came down that Deion would join the Ravens, the publicity salvo that I expected was never really launched. In fact, a match to strike the fuse was never really struck. Deion didn’t treat his return to the NFL as the “Prime Time” event that I expected it to be.
Shortly after returning, I discussed Deion’s comeback with his personal trainer Coach Tom Shaw. “Why”, I asked, “was Deion’s return such a big secret and why was it kept under wraps for so long?” Coach Shaw replied, “Deion never wanted [the comeback] to seem like some publicity stunt. He just went about his business without intentionally keeping it under wraps. He didn’t go about announcing it and he just chose to let the normal media process discover his intentions the way they normally find out about these things.”
“Why the Ravens”, I asked. Coach Tom continued, “Deion loves football and wants to play with his friends. He isn’t out hunting for money or publicity. He just loves football. He doesn’t need the money. You would be surprised how well he’s invested his money. He doesn’t have to work another day in his life. Deion consulted with several athletes that made comebacks. Nearly all of them said that the No. 1 thing you must do is to be on a good team where you are not the focus, unlike Michael Jordan in Washington. Deion wants to help the Ravens. He’s very dedicated to this and he doesn’t want to embarrass himself or try to outshine players like Chris McAlister.”
For the love of the game! Deion Sanders was returning for the love of the game. That’s why Deion would get up at 5AM every morning and train from 6:30 until noon and then start again at 4PM and wrap up by 6PM. He would simulate drives consisting of 10 plays in which receivers run digs, go patterns, slants, come back routes and your typical assortment of patterns. He would run 10 plays each with three different receivers. After each set of 30 routes, he would have a 2 minute break to simulate a change of possession and then start it again. Deion would do 5 sets of 30 patterns. And then when he finished, Deion would go and coach his little league team at 6:30PM all the while battling the intense Texas summer heat.
That is not a publicity stunt. That was for the love of the game.
Jerry Rice still plays for the love of the game. Many believe that his extended career might tarnish his accomplishments since he is now just a shadow of his former self. But how will it tarnish what he’s already done? All those records and accolades can’t be taken away. They are part of the NFL’s history and Rice’s legacy. If Jerry Rice is still capable of making an NFL roster and he doesn’t care if that roster spot includes him contributing on special teams at the age of 42, then why should we care or be upset about it? He’s the one spending hours upon hours of training and putting his body through grueling test after grueling test that most of us would run and hide from (and pop a hamstring in the process).
Maybe you love to play softball or maybe you love music. Maybe you love to ride your bike or maybe you love to fish. Jerry Rice loves to play football. Why should we criticize someone’s pursuit of happiness if such pursuit is harmless to all others?
Miguel Tejada pursued his love of baseball and look where he is now! Christine Brennan wrote a terrific piece on Tejada in Monday’s USA Today. In her column, Brennan chronicles Tejada’s trials and tribulations as a youngster growing up in the Dominican Republic. At the age of 3, Tejada and his family of 10 were forced from their very modest home by Hurricane David and they lived in a school. At the age of 5 Tejada shined shoes to help his family. At 11 he quit school to work in a factory. Tejada had very little if anything as a child.
But he had baseball even if he did have to play it with tree branches for bats and rolled up wet rags for balls. Today he’s happy to play and he’s happy for his brand new uniform and new shoes. “Before, I don’t have that. That’s one of the reasons that I play so hard. I know what I came from. I came from nothing. So I tell myself everyday, ‘Oh god, thank you for this opportunity.’ I say thank you to myself for doing what I do, to make other people proud, my family, all the people from my country, my teammates. Baseball is everything to me, every day. I love this game.”
Tejada, arguably the best Oriole since Frank Robinson, brings his infectious spirit to the ball yard every day and his family and friends are reminded of it daily back in the Dominican Republic. With the spoils of his talents, Tejada built a large home for his dad and he built a stadium for children so that they would not have to endure what he did as a child. He channeled his love of the game to benefit his family and country.
Petty Officer 1st Class Greg Kerns Jr. also dedicated his life to family and country. Kerns spent nine months on a destroyer during the first Gulf War and survived three months on the ground in Afghanistan in 2002. He has received the bronze star for his role in preventing a Taliban attack, killing a Taliban operative and detaining another Taliban officer. Few people knew about Kerns’ heroism because he wanted it that way. The best in all walks of life prefer to let their actions speak for themselves.
The 17 year Navy veteran and Odenton, MD firefighter was recently knocked from his motorcycle and suffered head injuries and a broken wrist and ankle. On July 2, Officer Kerns passed away at the age of 35 as a result of those injuries leaving behind his wife Stacia, a 13 year old daughter Aundria and an 11 year old son, Gregory III.
Officer Kerns and his son had planned to visit the Steelers training camp this summer. Young Gregory wanted Jerome Bettis to sign his rookie card. Those close to the family are hoping that someone could arrange for the boy and his mom and sister to attend the Ravens v. Steelers on November 20th. They are also hopeful that somehow they can get Jerome Bettis to sign that rookie card.
Gregory’s dad made so many sacrifices for the love of his country; his son wants to watch his favorite player play because he loves the game and hopefully, somewhere, somehow, someone steps up to fulfill the dream of Officer Kern’s son for the love of humanity.