In what’s sure to be a somewhat controversial move, the Atlanta Falcons have decided to induct early ‘90s meteor CB Deion Sanders into their tight-knit Ring of Honor. Sanders has almost nothing in common with the personas and tenure of the ring’s other members — Tommy Nobis, Jessie Tuggle, Steve Bartkowski, Mike Kenn, Claude Humphrey, William Andrews, and Jeff Van Note all played almost their entire careers in Atlanta, while Sanders only played five of his 13 seasons here.
So why honor a player who once raced down the sidelines as a 49er, staring down the Falcons sideline and highstepping about thirty miles into the Georgia Dome end zone?
First, because he’s the best football player we’ve ever had. To ignore that out of spite due to a bad exit, most of which was the fault of an already despised owner anyway, would be petty.
But the smartest part of a move like this is all about branding. Just as the team is doing everything it can to cement itself as a piece of the greatest-ever tight end’s legacy while it still can, this is a way for the Falcons to remind people that Prime was ours first. When he’s giving his Hall of Fame induction speech next year, at some point a graphic will pop on screen listing his membership in the Falcons’ club. He isn’t in the Cowboys Ring of Honor yet — meaning they’ll add him after the Falcons do, and the Falcons will get mentioned in Canton alongside the Cowboys (HINT: that’s good branding).
Sanders also stands for a critical period in Falcons history. After Bartkowski led the team to one of its best seasons ever in 1980, the Falcons all but disappeared from the NFL landscape during the 1980s. Prime’s arrival changed that. Not only did the Falcons return to the national spotlight for Sanders’ play and what the kids call swag, they also went back to the playoffs for the first time since the late ‘70s. As the team’s far-and-away best player, Sanders deserves a heap of credit. Though the team briefly returned to obscurity shortly after, it’s hard to imagine the runs Jamal Anderson and Michael Vick had as citywide stars without a Sanders-shaped context and precedent. Sure, Vick would’ve been huge either way, but a percentage of his biggest Atlanta fans only took up NFL fandom in the first place because of Sanders.
All for this move.