Deion Sanders Leads Seven Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductees in Canton

Deion Sanders was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recognition of a 17-year career that started with a touchdown in his first game and wound up changing the way his position was played.

Sanders, voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s as a cornerback and kick returner, joined former running back Marshall Faulk in being inducted in their first year of eligibility. Also honored yesterday in Canton, Ohio, were defensive lineman Richard Dent, tight end Shannon Sharpe and NFL Films founder Ed Sabol. Linebackers Chris Hanburger and Les Richter were inducted as senior committee nominees.

“This game meant so much for me,” Sanders said. “It taught me how to be a man, how to get back up.”

Sanders was known as “Prime Time” and “Neon Deion,” showing up in tailor-made suits accented by rings, necklaces and diamond stud earrings. He stood out just as much on the field, scoring 22 touchdowns and playing on two Super Bowl champions, and at one time was the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.

“Deion was one of the few guys that started playing defense but being offensive,” Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott said on the shrine’s website. “That skill set, that mindset is really truly something that he set as a standard for a defensive back and became part of his DNA and became something that all defensive backs now try to do.”

One of Best

Sanders also played Major League Baseball and scored a touchdown in his NFL debut in 1989 on a 68-yard punt return five days after hitting a home run for the New York Yankees.

Sanders, 43, was considered one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history and totaled 53 interceptions, returning nine for touchdowns. He also scored nine times on kick and punt returns, once on a fumble recovery and three times as a receiver.

Sanders spent his first five NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, then went to San Francisco in 1994 and helped the 49ers win a Super Bowl title after being named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He signed a seven-year, $35 million contract with Dallas in 1995 -- the richest for a defensive player at the time -- and helped deliver a Super Bowl championship for the Cowboys that season.

After five seasons in Dallas, Sanders ended his career with the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.

‘Football Heaven’

Faulk, 38, won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2000 and his 136 touchdowns are seventh-most in league history. He rushed for 12,279 yards in 12 years and won a Super Bowl ring with the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 season.

“This is football heaven,” Faulk said.

Dent, 50, the 27th member of the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame, was the team’s career sack leader with 124.5 during 12 seasons that covered two stints with the franchise.

“You must dream and you must be dedicated to something in your life,” Dent said. “Nobody can do anything alone. You need a support mechanism.”

Dent also played for San Francisco, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. During his 15-year NFL career, he had 137.5 sacks and was the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl played after the 1985 season, when the Bears beat the New England Patriots.

Tight End Record

Sharpe, 43, played tight end for Denver for 12 seasons, from 1990 to 1999 and 2002 to 2003, around two years with Baltimore. He was on three Super Bowl winners and finished his career as the NFL’s all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62).

He also set a league record at his position with eight Pro Bowls.

“There’s a reason they say chasing a dream instead of walking after it,” said Sharpe, who left for Savannah State University carrying two grocery bags filled with his belongings.

Sabol, 95, an overcoat salesman who loved filmmaking, shot his first NFL game -- the championship between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium -- in 1962. Two years later, he convinced the NFL that the league should consider preserving games on film.

In 1964, Sabol’s company officially became NFL Films. He retired in 1995 as president and chairman of the company he shared with his son, Steve.

Hanburger, who turns 70 next week, played his entire NFL career with the Washington Redskins from 1965 to 1978. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection.

Richter, who died in June at the age of 79, played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1954 to 1962 after being acquired from the Dallas Texans for 11 players. He was picked for the Pro Bowl eight times. After his NFL career ended, he became a senior executive for Nascar.

This year’s class was chosen from 17 finalists by the Hall of Fame’s 44-member selection committee and announced the day before the Super Bowl in February.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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