It might be true that some teenagers across the country have played more than one high school sport on the same day. Maybe it's even happened at the college level to a rare degree. But a pro athlete? Playing two different major sports on the same day? Different story.
30 years ago today, however, it almost happened.
Here's the story:
As 1989 moved into 1990, Deion Sanders was a multi-sport sensation. He'd signed professional contracts with the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball and the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League, and because the schedules of the two sports only experienced a small overlap, he was able to play for both teams without too much calendar conflict—just a whole lot of extra travel and an admirable amount of physical and mental effort.
About a year later things got a bit easier on that front, however, as the Yankees released him and the Atlanta Braves took him on board. Now he'd be playing for two teams based in the same city.
Sanders, also known as "Prime Time" for his dynamic skills and electric personality, had already been cutting loose on the football field at this point in his young career, earning a Pro Bowl spot and second team All-Pro nomination in 1991. The next year, he started showing his baseball talent. In 97 games played with the Braves he batted .304 with 6 doubles, 14 triples (led major leagues), 8 home runs, and 26 stolen bases on just 35 attempts.
Then September rolled around. The NFL season was underway with Sanders playing for the Falcons on Sundays. MLB playoffs weren't far behind, and the Braves were looking like contenders who could benefit from Deion's skill set. Scheduling difficulties were bound to come up. And they did.
On Sunday October 11, 1992, the Atlanta Falcons, with a record of 2–3 to that point, were set to face the Miami Dolphins in Miami. The Atlanta Braves would also be playing on the 11th, in Pittsburgh, up 3 games to 1 in their NLCS battle against the Pirates. Fortunately, there was a window of opportunity.
The Falcons game was scheduled for 1:00pm in Miami, and the Braves game was slated for 8:44pm in Pittsburgh. Sanders was young, full of energy, and ready to play both games.
He suited up in Miami, played cornerback on defense, received one pass for 9 yards on offense, and also played special teams, returning two kicks for a total of 42 yards. The Dolphins would win the game by a score of 21–17, but Sanders made his contributions and the Falcons understood what an achievement Prime Time was set to fulfill. Now it was off to Pittsburgh.
Sanders arrived in time to suit up for the NLCS game, but was not part of the starting lineup. The higher-ups in the Braves organization weren't quite as understanding about the situation, and felt Sanders should have been devoted only to baseball and the playoffs on this day.
So the game progressed, and Sanders sat on the bench, cheering on his teammates. By the 3rd inning it was 5–0 Pittsburgh, and by the 7th it was 7–0. Surely manager Bobby Cox could have inserted Sanders into the game as a defensive replacement, at very least. But the 7th inning moved into the 8th. And then the 9th. The game ended. Final score, 7–1. Sanders remained on the bench the entire time.
It's really a shame, but Sanders had still accomplished something that no one else could claim: He suited up for two different professional sports on the same day.
As a trading card collector, I looked around to see if any card company from the era had commemorated the feat.
1992 Upper Deck card #SP3 comes close, with a cool shot of Sanders transitioning from football to baseball on the front and a nice write-up on the back. No mention of the feat, however.
1993 Fleer #263 shows an illustration of Sanders in half-football and half-baseball gear, well done too, but again does not mention the special feat.
1993 Upper Deck Fun Pack #34 lives up to its name with a fun illustration on the front, and it does mention the feat on the back.
But I wanted to create a custom card to commemorate the occasion as well, using a familiar "highlight" template. Here's how it turned out:
And here's the back:
What could have been.
Regardless, it's a pretty cool accomplishment. And Sanders does have another interesting feather in his cap. He's the only pro athlete to have played in the Super Bowl and the World Series. He won Super Bowls with the 49ers in 1995 and Cowboys in 1996, but came up short on a World Series victory. If only the Braves had been able to defeat the Blue Jays in 1992. (It wasn't for lack of trying. The Braves played well in the series, and Sanders individually went 8-for-15 with 2 doubles, 4 runs scored, 1 RBI, and 5 stolen bases in 5 attempts.)
Any Neon Deion fans out there? Did you collect his cards? Watch him play? Share some memories in the comment section, and thanks for reading!
(For those interested in learning more about the historic day, ESPN did a 30 for 30 episode about it a few years ago.)