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The Cowboys Legacy of Deion Sanders

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The Cowboys Legacy of Deion Sanders

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Barring an unforeseen turn in the voting, Deion Sanders will be announced as one of football's newest Hall of Famers this weekend.

The fact that the announcement will come while Dallas is hosting the Super Bowl is just one more reason why a lot of people will see this as another Cowboy entering Canton. Given the path that Deion's career took, it's interesting that that is the case.

Sanders obviously played for the Cowboys, but he hardly made his legend while wearing the star. He entered the NFL with an otherworldly level of hype and made good on it during his five years with the Falcons. He scored 10 of his 21 career touchdowns while in Atlanta and became the Neon Deion character that he still plays on TV. His one year with the 49ers, meanwhile, was his best as a professional and ended with his first Super Bowl ring. 

His Cowboy run lasted the same length of time as his Falcons tenure and won another ring, but he also wasn't quite the same player as he was in his first six NFL years. He missed 17 games with a variety of injuries, he never made good on the promise made to be an outstanding offensive player and presided over the start of a long decline that the Cowboys haven't quite figured out how to stop.

Sanders went on to play for the Redskins and Ravens, so why is he seen as a Cowboy above all the other teams? Super Bowl rings are always defining parts of a player's career -- see Reggie White as Packer icon instead of Eagles legend -- and Deion was too much of a mercenary to be attached to the Niners. The Cowboys have also pushed their connection to Deion stronger than anyone else over the years, playing up the already strong fit between a player as interested in marketing himself as the Cowboys are in selling themselves. Deion as a Cowboy just worked, much like Hollywood Henderson, Michael Irvin and even Terrell Owens worked as Cowboys.

There's a bit of a darker connection, though. Sanders's arrival in Dallas helped bring a third Super Bowl, but it also signaled the real end of the era that birthed the three champions. The Cowboys stopped building through the draft and stopped following a plan that had them doing anything other than grabbing the biggest name available. Deion worked out, more or less, but there aren't many Deion type talents out there and it's proven to be a losing strategy over the years.

That's not Deion's fault, obviously, but he still stands out as the man who sent the team headed down that road. That's not an insignificant part of Deion's legacy in Dallas nor is it an insignificant part of why so many people think of him as a Cowboy despite his memorable runs in other uniforms.

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