- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

Deion Sanders was the best dancer there ever was.

He was the Mikhail Baryshnikov of the NFL.

"The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure," Baryshnikov says.

Sanders could say that again if he were still around.

He danced when the punt was in the air. One time last season, so consumed he was with dancing, he neglected to catch the ball and instead permitted it to hit off his face mask.

Sanders eventually blamed his blockers. If his teammates couldn't block, he couldn't catch. You know how it goes.

Yet he was a great team guy, so the spin went, a great guy to have in the locker room. He picked up all the dirty towels in the locker room. He swept the floors. He was a paragon of humility, modesty, no different from the last player on the roster, as long as there were no reporters and cameras in his vicinity.

His public self was just a marketing ploy, a Madonna-like invention designed to exploit the forces of celebrityhood. Play the arrogant card. Be the over-the-top showman. Break out the expensive threads and jewelry. The media and public will lap it up, celebrating your incredible uniqueness as a human being.

No, his teammates did not object to this chameleonic dimension of Sanders. They did not mind if the ball ricocheted off his face mask. They did not mind if he criticized his blockers. They did not mind if he was allergic to tackling a ball carrier. His teammates understood. He had to be who he was, an ego on steroids, and the notion of the team being first did not apply to him.

It applied to everyone else, including Darrell Green, but Sanders was absolved because he wore nice clothes and renamed the cornerback position after himself.

He was a beautiful man, and back in the day, when he slept here, there and everywhere else, he found religion in a ravine outside Cincinnati. It came to him just like that. He discovered the meaning of life, and the emptiness inside him was removed. He vowed to be a better person. He now knew what was important.

It wasn't about the money. It wasn't about the fame. None of that could buy a person happiness. He was a testament to that. In the end, the acquisition of material goods mean nothing. That gold watch won't be any comfort in the final days of your existence.

Sanders belted out the reawakening tune, expressing piety and chasteness and devotion to God, family and whichever team happened to be employing him at the time. It was hard to keep track of the teams and sports and his various selves.

Sanders couldn't break all his old habits with the Boy Owner and the local NFL team. He wanted that $8 million signing bonus, as much of it as possible anyway, although it was not about the money, not really. It was the principle of the darn thing. He put in a whole season with the team. He even accompanied the Boy Owner to a basketball game in Tony Cheng's neighborhood.

Sanders remained a warm, caring, loyal person, except around Marty Schottenheimer, the exception to his stunning transformation as a complete and whole human being. He did not care to talk to Schottenheimer to learn if his impressions from afar were accurate. He did not care to treat his former employer with a modicum of class and decency. He sent messages to the team through the media and tried to play baseball, and when the time finally came, he took the money and ran.

So Sanders has retired from football, at least for the moment, and the Boy Owner has paid $7.5 million for a learning experience, and there no longer is a lot of love in the air between the principal parties.

Sanders is the face to a season that went bust. He is the committed mercenary who, if character mattered, might have felt compelled to return to the team this season out of atonement. He bristled at the suggestion that he was showing signs of his age last season. But now, upon further review, the critics were right and he was wrong.

He is gone after one forgettable season, after all the hype and no substance, and thankfully, Washington barely got to know him.

He merits a goodbye.

And a good riddance.

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