One of the greatest athletes in American sports history sat on a folding chair in the visitors’ locker room Friday night at Madison-Ridgeland Academy and took the blame for his team’s 27-26 loss to the gutsy Patriots.
“I made a call I shouldn’t have,” said Deion “Prime Time” Sanders, offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian-Cedar Hill of Texas, which has won three consecutive state titles and lost just two games in that stretch. “If we’d executed, we’re outta there. But we didn’t execute.
“I told (the players) it was on me. I took that one. Shouldn’t have made the call. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.”
With Trinity leading 26-20 with under 2 minutes remaining, Deion called a reverse — a risky play at that point in the game, and even more so in a season opener.
Trinity fumbled the handoff when a back appeared to get in the way. MRA’s Sam Polles recovered at the Tigers’ 12-yard line, and the Patriots scored the tying touchdown with 7 seconds left on a sizzling 10-yard throw from quarterback Zach Beasley to wideout Davis Dalton. Landen McGee kicked the winning extra point.
“We have lots of heart,” MRA coach Herbert Davis told Mississippi Scoreboard’s Robert Wilson postgame.
I second that.
MRA lost a bunch of talent from its 2019 state championship team, including its quarterback, top five receivers and entire defensive front.
On paper, Trinity was a solid favorite, led by Sanders’ son, Shedeur, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior quarterback who is rated a 4-star by 247 sports. He is committed to Florida Atlantic but received scholarship offers from most big-name programs.
Shedeur Sanders played well, completing 19 of 24 passes for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ran for a score.
“If we had hit on some of the throws we missed, it would’ve stopped all this,” Deion said. “We missed three or four deep throws and a couple of them would’ve been touchdowns.”
“But you know what? I’ve got a lot of respect for (MRA), man. They played their butts off. It was a sloppy game on both sides, but they did it when they needed to do it. They came through.
“One receiver (Dalton) was spectacular. And they’ve got a defensive end (Stone Blanton) that was phenomenal — end or inside linebacker. He was No. 10. He was everywhere. They played some ball, man. I’m proud of them.
“Coach (Davis) is a good guy, respectful guy. He spoke before the game. I saw him on an interview speaking highly of our program this week.
“At the end of the day, we like good football. We wanted a good football game, and that’s what we got. We just came up on the short end.”
The praise didn’t only come from Deion.
Trinity’s head coach, Andre Hart, said: “We knew they were a vertical (passing) team — and they did that tonight. They showed their ability to throw the ball deep.”
“What a great game and a great way to start the season. Hopefully, we’ll learn from this and get better. But with everything going on with the coronavirus, getting people out here and allowing them to enjoy something for a couple of hours and get their minds off the pandemic … that’s what tonight was about.”
Per orders from Gov. Tate Reeves, attendance was limited. Some of MRA’s top athletes in other sports couldn’t get in. Neither could some of the school’s longest supporters. Two attendees per participant received tickets. And Trinity brought a nice crowd.
The atmosphere before the game was eery. Fans were quiet, as if they weren’t sure how to react to being at a game when some high schools and colleges have already postponed or canceled their 2020 seasons. And that mood prevailed throughout the stadium until Beasley hit Davis on a play MRA supporters will remember for years to come. Fans screamed and social distancing went out the window for a few moments.
And because of Covid-19, the two teams weren’t allowed to shake hands afterward. Instead, they lined up facing one another at the middle of the field, raised their helmets as a show of respect, and then went their separate ways.
Yes, it was weird watching Deion Sanders on MRA’s field before the game and on the sidelines during it.
Consider: He played 14 seasons in the NFL and made eight Pro Bowls. At 6-1, 195 pounds, he was the ultimate shutdown cornerback. He scored touchdowns by reception, interception return, kickoff return and punt return. He won two Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
He also played nine Major League Baseball seasons. On a broken foot, he batted 533 with 8 hits, 4 runs scored and 2 doubles for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series.
In 1989, he hit a home run and scored a touchdown in the same week. He is the only athlete to play in a Super Bowl and a World Series.
And let’s be clear: He didn’t have to talk to me after his team’s heartbreaking loss. But he did, and there was nothing rushed about it.
I asked what he loves about coaching.
“Love the kids,” he said. “Preparing kids and giving them the tools to go to the next level and blossom. And not only teaching them to be great football players, but great men — consequently, great fathers. That’s what we’re looking for.”
I mentioned that coaching one’s son can be wonderful and exhausting.
“I’ve been coaching him since birth, though,” said Deion, who recently left his gig at NFL Network and joined Barstool Sports. “I”m not the easiest guy to play for. I have expectations not only for my son but all the kids. The thing I try to attain is, someone not being able to know which one is my son by our conversation and our dialogue because I treat them all like “you better get your butt in gear, let’s go.” I challenge them, I chastise them, I correct them, I compliment them. All of the above.”
I said he looked as if he could still play at age 53,
He smiled. “Looks are deceiving. My sciatic nerve is throbbing. I’ve had one back surgery, and I’ve got to get this checked out. But I’m a football player. We don’t stop for pain. We keep going.”
I told him that a friend of mine, former Mississippi State star pitcher Jeff Brantley, told me on more than one occasion that he was one of the best teammates Brantley ever had in the Major Leagues. The two played together in Cincinnati in 1994 and ’95. Brantley is a member of the Reds’ broadcast crew and lives in Madison.
“Jeff Brantley? Cowboy?!?” he asked.
“Man,” Deion said, leaning back in his chair and chuckling. “You bringing back some memories now. Cowboy!!! He was one of the greatest teammates in the world. You talking about one of the funniest, most wonderful guys ever. He could get a home run hit off him and it didn’t faze him. He was gonna come back the next pitch just as hard. Please, please tell him I said that.”
I assured him I would, and thanked him for his time.
“No problem,” he said. “And, hey, remember. I respect the heck out of that team that beat us tonight. I don’t want to take anything away from them.”