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Sanders makes whirlwind visit during baseball off day

August 22, 1997

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Deion Sanders, despite a sore back, plans on playing cornerback and returning punts in a little more than a week when the Dallas Cowboys open the season in Pittsburgh.

Sanders, boasting of a newfound religious peace and a diamond-encrusted gold cross around his neck, made an appearance at the Cowboys practice field Thursday and announced, ``Have no fear, Deion is here.″

It was a whirlwind visit by Sanders on his off day from baseball duties with the Cincinnati Reds. It included meetings with defensive coaches, a physical examination, hugs and jokes with his teammates and a remarkable news conference about religion, baseball, football and running around on his wife.

There also was some hard news concerning his plans for football season.

Sanders said he will continue to play baseball for the Reds as much as the bulging disk in his back allows. And he will play with the Cowboys on Aug. 31.

After practice, Sanders changed from workout togs to a sharp blue suit and patent-leather shoes. The cross replaced a diamond-studded ``21″ that Sanders used to wear for news conferences and television interviews.

Sanders professed his religious awakening and said his looming divorce was ``a blessing because I was able to look in a mirror and change things,″ and said that someday he will become either an evangelist or a pastor.

``I’ve been born again and I’m not only showing it, I’m living it,″ Sanders said. ``Being alone without my wife and kids gave me a chance to look within myself. I fornicated and had sex outside my marriage and I’m opening the door for Jesus. Now, I have peace in my life. My divorce was a blessing in disguise. ″

Once the focus shifted to baseball and football, Sanders said ``I plan on playing next Sunday in Pittsburgh. I probably won’t play this weekend for Cincinnati. I’ll play when I don’t feel pain and I feel it’s the right thing to do. There are things in baseball I can still do for my team. I need to get myself healthy because the team needs me. My back is still sore, but I feel it will be healed.″

Sanders said his game plan for the Cowboys was to fly to Pittsburgh either next Friday night or Saturday morning.

And he added ``if I play Sunday (in Pittsburgh) I’ll return punts. I feel like I’ll be able to play. I just hope I’ll be healthy enough to perform to the best of my abilities.″

Cowboys coaches said they believe Sanders can.

``If he’s swinging a bat and stealing bases, he can still play football,″ Dallas coach Barry Switzer said. ``He was a spark for us out there today. All the guys were glad to see him.″

As for the newfound religious Sanders, Switzer said, ``He’s a changed man. I respect him for it.″

Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said cornerback Sanders ``looks like the Deion of old. He’s a unique individual. He doesn’t need that much work on the game plan for Pittsburgh because we won’t do anything different. We do what we do. He said we can count on him.″

The Cowboys were so sure about it they cut cornerback Alundis Brice.

Among other items Sanders discussed was that he thought he could make a bigger impact on religion than Green Bay’s Reggie White because ``the words I speak go a long way. I can really touch some people.″

Sanders also said he was trying to decide what to do about his ``Prime Time 21″ nightclub in Dallas.

``This thing is not correct,″ he said. ``My dreams are to be either an evangelist or pastor.″

When pressed some more about his Christianity, Sanders announced, ``This is turning negative. God bless you.″

Then he left for a flight to Cincinnati.

Prime Time’s one and only day with the Cowboys before they open the regular season was over.

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