miércoles, mayo 22

Can Deion Sanders mania last? Inside his response to back-to-back losses

By Christopher Kamrani, Marcus Thompson II and David Ubben

BOULDER, Colo. — Obviously exhausted, technically beaten, but never crestfallen, Deion Sanders sits in a black leather folding chair with his left leg plunged into a navy blue tote filled with ice water up to his calf.

“Woo, Lord Jesus!” he says.

His son Deion Jr., the primary social media documentarian of the most spellbinding story in sports, asks him if his foot — which has caused the Pro Football Hall of Famer an array of health issues in the past two years — including two amputated toes — hurts.

“It’s cold, dog,” Sanders says, smiling back, resting his face into his right hand.

“Well,” Deion Jr. responds, “that’s better than hurt.”

In an unspecified room within the Colorado Champions Center, Deion Sanders finally gets a breather. The cameras — albeit for the one always on — are finally off. The shades are off, too. The celebrities who lined the sidelines Saturday for the Buffaloes’ 48-41 loss to No. 8 USC are all homeward bound on their private jets, leaving a cloudless Saturday afternoon in Boulder.

The break in the black folding chair lasts mere seconds before Sanders lifts his head and beams. His daughters, Deiondra, 31, and Shelomi, who followed her dad to Colorado and is a guard on the women’s basketball team, make Sanders briefly forget about the frigid water and the frantic loss. There is no sign of pain on his face, just appreciation. The Colorado Buffaloes are 3-2 now, having dropped back-to-back outings against back-to-back conference opponents ranked in the top 10 in markedly different fashion.

The weekend before, they were outclassed and unprepared in a 42-6 loss at No. 10 Oregon. On Saturday, a rewind-and-repeat scenario looked imminent when the Trojans went up 34-7 in the second quarter. Inside Folsom Field filled to the brim, Colorado responded, cutting the deficit to seven points with one minute left in the game.

The trail of skeptics soaking in the stumbles of Deion, his sons, starting quarterback Shedeur and starting safety Shilo, and all of these Buffs, is lengthening each week. They’re ready for the phenomenon to fizzle out. Some want college football as it always has been: status quo.

Fox personality Keyshawn Johnson indicated between the Oregon and USC games that opposing coaches aided Oregon in game planning. During Week 3, Colorado State coach Jay Norvell criticized Sanders for wearing sunglasses and a hat. The pregame shows never seem to leave town, and Coach Prime is always the topic of the day, no matter the channel.

By the end of the week, the narrative around Colorado football had changed, but the losses have not broken Sanders’ Colorado team, just as the 3-0 start didn’t crown it.


Shedeur Sanders (left), with Deion Sanders, threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns and had one interception in the loss to USC.  (Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

Sanders’ constant claim is “Get me while you can.”

How many other programs will be able to cater to recruits and players looking to transfer with pitches that include Lil Wayne leading the team out of the pregame tunnel? Or having The Rock just show up to fire them up? The program has received an “absurd” amount of inquiries, Sanders said, but playing for Sanders requires more than surface-level star ratings.

The Athletic followed Colorado’s program in Eugene and Boulder from Saturday to Saturday, aided by the endless video content Sanders’ team produces, to get a sense of how he steered the Buffs behind the scenes with national intrigue at its pinnacle, even as the losses punctured the on-field momentum.

DAY 1

Inside Autzen Stadium under Eugene’s familiar low-lying cloud cover, Deion Sanders makes his customary pregame lap around the field. He’s walking slowly, flanked by two imposing security guards and a horde of reporters filming with cameras or smartphones.

Sanders knows he’s seen at all times.

“60 Minutes” visited Boulder to examine what is being called “The Prime Effect.” No other head coach is starring in multiple nationally televised commercials. His family and players are YouTube stars. Shedeur, who has generated Heisman buzz, wears a $70,000 custom Royal Oak diamond-studded watch that he raised in the faces of Nebraska players before their game to shoo them off the Buffs logo. Now the student section salutes with raised wrists.

Most of September belonged to the Buffs, and in essence, Sanders.

The stunning win at TCU, the rout in the home opener over the rival Huskers, the epic comeback against Colorado State — the 3-0 start cultivated a cult following around a program that had become inconsequential. Sanders’ team broke viewership records, overshadowed SEC powerhouses and became the primary topic of the daily American sports conversation.

During warmups, Sanders sports a pair of black Nike gloves as he helps skill position players go through drills. Minutes later, he’s embraced by a familiar face. One he hadn’t seen in years. Sanders stops and bows as Nike owner Phil Knight approaches him before they hug.


Deion Sanders returned to Nike this summer after a long-standing dispute from his playing days. (Soobum Im / USA Today)

In July, Sanders left Under Armour and returned to Nike after their relationship had frayed for years dating back to a disagreement over Sanders’ compensation during his playing days.

“I’m so proud of you, man,” Knight says in Sanders’ ear as the two hug. “It’s so good to have you back. I was proud of you as a player and a person. I can’t believe how proud I am of you as a coach. You’re just doing fabulous.”

As Oregon dominates from the opening minutes, ABC’s broadcast airs an incendiary pregame speech from Oregon coach Dan Lanning.

“They’re fighting for clicks. We’re fighting for wins,” he says with an ESPN camera focused directly on him.

By halftime, the Ducks lead 35-0. Colorado doesn’t take a snap inside Oregon’s 35-yard line until there is 4:17 left. Sanders calls it a “good, old-fashioned butt-kicking” and takes responsibility.

“Teams are trying to beat me,” Sanders says. “They aren’t trying to beat our team. That’s what it really is. It is what it is. I signed up for it.”

The Buffs’ first loss of the season is a beating in every sense of the word. It might not leave them humbled, but it leaves them bruised and bloodied.

Shedeur takes seven sacks. Leading receiver Xavier Weaver limps to the locker room early with no shoe on his left foot. Shilo notices there’s blood in his urine after the game and will head to the emergency room when the team lands in Boulder.

Oregon brings Deion Sanders’ program down to earth. But the Buffaloes, despite having been stampeded, do not pout.

“I’ve been on plenty of planes flying home after a bad game — and I’ve seen plenty of those here in recent years — there’s a distinct feel to it. I didn’t think Saturday night coming back was anything out of the ordinary,” says Colorado play-by-play voice Mark Johnson. “You could tell they lost, but after the win at TCU, the plane ride home was very calm. It wasn’t a party atmosphere.”

DAY 2

Gospel music blares from the speakers in Colorado’s team meeting room as Sanders enters on Sunday morning to address his team.

“Leave it on,” Sanders says as he walks to the front of the room. A giant photo of a weathered and scratched Colorado helmet looms on the projection screen behind him.

He dares the team not to look away from Saturday’s disaster. Learn from it. He challenges the players to be “critically honest” with themselves about what happened. He doesn’t want to see a difference in their approach or effort if they’d beaten Oregon by 36 instead of enduring a lopsided loss.

“I don’t believe a good butt-kicking should get you back on track,” he says. “I believe you gonna get yourself back on track whether you win or lose.”

The world is watching, he tells them. He’s right. The loss at Oregon drew more than 10 million viewers on ABC, the most-watched college football game of the year. There were too many warts exposed for the Buffs to remain competitive against a superior roster.

“They really had some tells,” one Pac-12 assistant, granted anonymity for his candor, says. “I think they want to rack up some stats for Shedeur. He really holds on to the ball a long time. I think he takes sacks because he doesn’t want to affect his completion percentage. He’s playing a little different than he did earlier in the season. Before he showed that he was willing to step up and escape through the B-gaps. Now, he’s retreating more.”

In the team meeting Sunday, Sanders pulls out his phone and reads a text message.

“I need to play this week. We need to get everything we can so I can get back on the field. I’m not taking no for an answer.”

He asks his team who they think sent it.

They all guess correctly: two-way star Travis Hunter, who missed the Oregon game with a lacerated liver and isn’t expected to be available for two more weeks.

Sanders reads aloud his response.

“No, you ain’t ready. And I care about you more than I care about this game. You gonna change the game of football one day when you healthy and ready. Your future is brighter than mine ever will be or ever was. Relax and get healthy. I love you, son.”

Sanders reads it to illustrate his love for his team, but also the kind of attitude he expects from the players who will be available as they prepare for USC. And there’s zero time for letting the fog of the loss in Eugene hover. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is coming to town in six days. Also on Sunday, Colorado tumbles out of the AP Top 25 poll.

As one Colorado assistant says, the message is to embrace the fiasco at Autzen: “Tell the truth. Take confidence from the good and learn from mistakes.”

DAY 3

Most days, Sanders arrives at the team’s $177 million, red-bricked facility around 5 a.m. His private security team has to make sure it beats him there.

Officer Michael Rhodes joined Sanders’ security team in Jackson, Miss., when local police put together a team to protect Sanders around the clock. Midway through last season at Jackson State, Sanders’ third at the Historically Black College and University that gave him his first college coaching job, Sanders brought them in and said he wasn’t sure where he’d be the next year, but offered a job wherever he went. Rhodes took Sanders up on it.

Every morning when they arrive, people are hanging around to grab a picture, autograph or moment with Sanders. It’s the same late at night when he leaves.

“There’s never a dull moment,” Rhodes says.

Over on popular Pearl Street, BoCo Life, a local clothing store, specializes in Colorado, Boulder, and above all else, Buffaloes gear. Inside her store, Paula Johansen is talking to her sales associates about the massive week ahead. The point of emphasis? It must be Prime. That’s what you see when you first walk in. T-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, you name it.

“WE COMING”

“COACH PRIME”

“I AIN’T HARD TO FIND”

Prime gear comes in kids sizes, too, but infant Prime gear has been the fastest selling merchandise in the store. Parents want to deck their babies out like Deion Sanders. Johansen and her family relocated to Colorado from their hometown of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Eventually, in June 2019, they opened BoCo. Less than a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic ground hopes of a vibrant financial start to a halt.

BoCo Life made it through. But CU athletics weren’t a help. Johansen says when the Buffs went 1-11 in 2022, “my financial hole got a little bit bigger.” She had so much black and gold gear not being purchased that she had to rent out a warehouse to store it.

That all changed the first week of December. When Sanders’ hire was announced, Johansen says, “the gates of heaven opened up.”

DAY 4

Boulder Creek slices its way through parts of Colorado’s scenic campus. It also separates the football facility from the practice field. Players and staff must cross a curved bridge to get to the grass.

On the concrete path below, students walk, bike or longboard, and almost everyone has a cup of coffee in their hand on another stellar sun-soaked morning. They are on the move while the Buffaloes are in the midst of a morning practice. Wearing a black “I BELIEVE” hoodie and black sweatpants, Deion Sanders goes from one practice field to another, taking with him the laminated playsheets that dangle from his hip.

Sanders stops grad transfer safety Rodrick Ward, who will start in place of an injured Shilo Sanders on Saturday against USC, on back-to-back reps and puts his hands atop Ward’s pads as he gives advice. Following the last rep, Sanders claps and moves to the center field where Shedeur and the first-team offense are practicing. Tuesday is a full-speed practice day.

“Let’s fix this!” he says. “We’re going to fix this today, all right?”

At 11:05 a.m., Sanders, breathing heavily, walks into the third-floor room of the CU Champions Center hosting his weekly news conference. More than 30 media members are in attendance, and Sanders covers topics like Shilo’s kidney injury and Caleb Williams’ deserved Heisman hype.

In this setting a week earlier, Sanders had been asked why five-star freshman cornerback Cormani McClain had barely seen the field, despite the team’s struggles defending the pass and lack of big-time talent at cornerback outside of the injured Hunter.

What was the reason?

“He is,” Sanders said.

Now asked to elaborate, he unleashes a blistering, detailed critique.


Five-star freshman cornerback Cormani McClain (above), from Lakeland, Fla., did not see the field much during Colorado’s first four games.  (Andy Cross / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

“Study,” he says. “Prepare. Be on time for meetings. Show up to the dern meetings. Understand what we’re doing as a scheme. Want to play this game. Desire to play this game. Desire to be the best in this game. At practice. In the film room and on your own free time. You do know that I check film time for each player? Thursday, I need film times from the whole staff so I can see who’s preparing. And that’s not just about Cormani, it’s about a multitude of them. So if I don’t see that, you would be a fool to put somebody out there and they’re unprepared. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. Can’t do it. I’m old school, I’m sorry.”

Some would call it airing the dirty laundry of a young player needing to mature. Sanders considers it public accountability, one more way his self-assurance leads him to do and say things most coaches — often risk-averse — would not.

After what appears to be the end of his news conference, Sanders returns to the mic to acknowledge the TV ratings from over the weekend and also the news announced Tuesday that Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano is retiring after 15 years in his role and 50 years at the university. Sanders calls DiStefano “a legend to me” for approving his hire by athletic director Rick George.

Two hours later, DiStefano is seated inside his office in the Chancellor’s cottage in a gold CU tie. DiStefano recounts the process of how Colorado landed Sanders. The Buffaloes were in Seattle for a Nov. 19 game at Washington, the penultimate game to end the most miserable season in program history. DiStefano and George had a dinner planned with prominent local alumni the night before when George texted DiStefano and asked if they could meet early.

Inside the hotel bar, George told him he’d had a number of conversations with Sanders and that he wanted to make the offer.

“I said, ‘Go for it,’” DiStefano recalls.

The next day at Husky Stadium, Colorado lost 54-7.

Nearly a year later, Sanders, Colorado and Boulder are the epicenter of the weekly sports zeitgeist.

“Hiring Deion has been transformational for the university, not just athletics, but also for the community,” DiStefano says.

The Boulder visitors bureau projected that the economic impact on the region for the Nebraska home opener was $17 million in one weekend. The outgoing chancellor has been going to CU football games since the 1970s. He watched Colorado win a title in 1990. He was at Michigan during the Kordell Stewart miracle Hail Mary in 1994. None of that, he says, tops the season-opening win at TCU.

Even DiStefano wears Prime gear. There’s one thing he hasn’t received that he’s hoping will be part of his farewell package.

“I’m waiting to get a pair of sunglasses,” he says.

DAY 5

On any given day, a famous face can be seen walking the halls of the Champions Center or strolling the sidelines on the practice fields. The Rock has dropped in, Terrell Owens has been a quasi-volunteer assistant and rapper Offset recently got a tour of campus. Celebrities, like the rest of the country, have deemed the Buffs a must-see event. The USC game predictably produces a rumor mill of potential visitors ranging from LeBron James, Jay-Z and Matthew McConaughey to longtime Trojans fans like Will Ferrell and Snoop Dogg. (Though rumors they prove to be.)

This week, members of All Elite Wrestling stop by practice to address the team, highlighted by Mark Henry, the former Olympic weightlifter, wrestling star and one-time “World’s Strongest Man.”

“I’m largely considered the strongest person that ever walked the planet,” Henry says while addressing the group.

Encountering their first loss necessitates a deeper message than just responding to adversity. Henry discusses the importance of mental health and being able to ask for help. To achieve is to be able to embrace the combination of hard work and sacrifice, he adds, but also understanding how to deal with failure. Troubles do not make you weak, Henry preaches.

He vows to come back next summer to offer strongman lifting clinics to help them bulk up ahead of Sanders’ second year.

But there are more immediate concerns. Before the wrestlers are introduced, Sanders, in a white bucket hat, tells the offense it had a horrible day. It was not “committed to excellence.”

“You cannot just turn it on at the last minute,” he tells them.

DAY 6

As smooth as always, Sanders emerges onto the stage in the rear of the Velvet Elk, the lounge side of The Post Chicken and Beer on 13th Street. The weekly live recording of the Buffaloes’ “Prime Time Radio Show” is one of Sanders’ more intimate public appearances.

“This is Brad Pitt, Elon Musk and a president all combined with a 4.4 sprint time and one of the greatest athletes ever,” says Dave Query, owner of The Post. “But here, he can chill for a hot minute. Nobody is pushing him. He’s not on the hot seat.”

It certainly feels that way for Amy Willard. She’s a 43-year-old professional. But when Sanders strolls out to a crowd of 50 or so, Willard reverts back to a teenage Deion fanatic, clapping and grinning, her widened eyes getting all teary.

She grew up a Broncos fan, but she loved Deion. She wore her blue No. 21 Cowboys jersey when her grandfather took her to a game when Dallas came to town in September 1998, the same season Denver went on to win its second consecutive Super Bowl. To punctuate the moment, her grandfather took her down near the tunnel where the visiting team exited. And. Deion. Touched. Her. Hand.

“And I just loved him ever since,” she says.

Sanders is fly as ever inside The Post, too: black Dickies-style coveralls, with “COACH PRIME” on his heart, all over a white shirt. White sneakers to match his white Buffaloes hat with the black brim. Gold chains, one with a prominent gold cross medallion. Sunglasses always.

“Man,” Johnson, voice of the Buffaloes, says as Sanders takes his seat. “You are looking stylish today. Holy cow.”

The only one in the venue nearly as fly is Lisa Knipp. The 58-year-old does her coach proud.

Blue No. 21 Cowboys jersey over the black tights. Black and white Buffaloes cap. Blenders shades. White sneakers. All set off with a gold pom-pom.

Her Sanders jersey is about 30 years old and belongs to Willard — her boss.

Four weeks ago, Willard bought four tickets, $45 each, to Thursday’s show. She is executive director of Roberta’s Legacy, a non-profit that assists families with the financial difficulties caused by breast cancer.

Willard brought three of her colleagues and hopes to get Sanders to sign the jersey, which they could use to raise money. Kipp has the Sharpie ready in the side pocket of her yoga pants.

They don’t get the autograph. They do, however, get a bonding moment and some Sanders humor.

“It’s hard to have a guy at that (high of a) level and that level of character as well,” Sanders says of Travis Hunter, who went bowling for charity with Henry Blackburn, the Colorado State defensive back whose hit lacerated Hunter’s liver.

“Travis ain’t drinking, smoking, staying out late,” Sanders says. “He’s not, you know, trying to impregnate the whole campus. He’s just a good kid.”

The audience breaks out in laughter.

Johnson asks Sanders who reaches out to him that makes the most-talked about man in the country geek out.

“I’ll tell you one person that you wouldn’t think we correspond that’s pretty good,” Sanders says, pausing to build the suspense.

“That’s (Kansas City Chiefs coach) Andy Reid. … You know, just coming in after practice and you look on there and it’s a text from Andy Reid. I’m like, ‘Wow! What’s up coach! Can you help me with this running game?’”

Sanders makes himself chuckle with that one, joining the audience in laughter.

This is the fourth year The Post has hosted the Colorado football coach’s show. And you couldn’t find a more antithetical feeling from a year ago.

“Last year, it was death warmed over,” Johnson says. “We went from being the most irrelevant program in America last November. Probably the worst Power 5 team in the country. The most uninteresting team in America. To now, nine months later, being the most relevant and one of the better teams in the country. And one of the most interesting.”

Sanders’ arrival is also impacting the Black experience in Boulder and college football.

Back on campus in Macky Auditorium, Reiland Rabaka, director of the Center for African and African American Studies at Colorado, sits for an interview for the Amazon series “Coach Prime,” expected to be released later this year, to put it into context.

“It’s an American story. It’s a Black American story. It’s a human story,” says Rabaka, author of 17 books, several analyzing hip-hop and Black culture. “It’s operating on so many levels. And let’s be honest: A lot of what we call popular culture in the United States of America is really Black popular culture. And athletes are at the heart of Black popular culture. So the fact that this brother is a brand and he’s larger than life and he’s energizing the University of Colorado base football fans such that they’ve sold out the entire season, it’s a no-brainer.”

DAY 7

The “Big Noon Kickoff” set is assembled and ready to reintroduce millions of viewers to Sanders’ Buffaloes for the third time this September, but first it is home to a live broadcast of Fox’s “Undisputed” Friday morning at Farrand Field. Host Skip Bayless is flanked by Keyshawn Johnson, in his Trojans red hoodie, and Michael Irvin, Sanders’ former teammate with the Dallas Cowboys who has already served as a guest speaker at Colorado practice this fall. Sanders arrives on set just after 9 a.m. in a black velvet cowboy hat.

The appearance isn’t long. Sanders has to return to the Champions Center to finalize preparation for the unbeaten Trojans. Before leaving the rounded table, he makes a point to thank Bayless, who has made a career out of stirring various pots with polarizing takes. Bayless was once a Dallas-based sports columnist who covered Sanders and Irvin during their Cowboys heyday.

Two of the brash showmen in sport on the same stage, Sanders thanks Bayless for providing more opportunity for prominent Black voices on sports-talk television and leaves the table to a rousing applause from the Colorado fans in attendance. Earlier in the week, Bayless microwaves another nuclear hot take by saying he believes Shedeur will be a better pro quarterback than Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and consensus No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.

These Buffaloes have become prime fodder to rouse fans into a tizzy.

USC coach Lincoln Riley, never one to cause waves in the media, has praised what Sanders has done in his short time at Colorado, having nothing to do with what other peers have said publicly in recent months about flipping nearly the entire roster in one offseason.

On Friday night, Sanders stands in front of the Buffaloes at the team hotel and seeks to infuse them with the same belief that permeated when they beat TCU in the season opener.

“This game is going to be life-changing. Not could be. It’s going to change the destiny of a multitude of y’all,” Sanders says, pacing at the front of the room in a gold CU quarter-zip hoodie, a pair of black drawstrings dangling at his shoulders. “It’s gonna be life-changing not only for you, but for this program. … I’m telling you, this game right here is going to be life-changing.”

Day 8

With Folsom Field subdued and USC up 48-21 late in the third quarter Saturday, the atmosphere is just calm enough for rapper Lecrae, sporting a Colorado football hoodie, to recognize the haunting choral chants echoing from the speakers.

The Christian rapper hustles to pull out his phone, raise it in the air and start recording. He is here to support Coach Prime. In the process, he receives a nice gift: his 2022 single blaring throughout the sold-out stadium.

A hyped Lecrae bounces to the thumping electronic percussion of 808s. His entourage and the fans in the crowd who know the song chant along with him. The sudden burst of energy on that end of the Colorado sidelines pops.

Spread the opps out. Spread the opps out. Spread the opps out.

Coach Prime might consider this moment an omen of divine inspiration. “Spread the opps” is slang for attacking the opposition. For Lecrae, it’s a declaration that after years of running from the opposition, he found fortitude knowing they were being defeated by God. There was an effective plan of attack in place.

From that point, Colorado storms back, scoring 20 straight points and coming within one missed onside kick attempt from having a chance to tie it up.


Colorado’s Omarion Miller had seven catches for 196 receiving yards and a touchdown in the loss to USC. (Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

Beyond the scope of this loss, Sanders will always be in position to attack the opposition. He’s said he was booed when he came out of his mother’s womb. He knows much of the college football establishment doubts him or is jealous or both.

But which other college football coach gets NBA Hall of Famers out to a school they have no ties to and go nuts on the sideline in hopes of an upset? At one point, former Colorado guard Derrick White gets his Boston Celtics teammate Jaylen Brown to do the wave in their suite. As the Buffaloes make it a game against the Trojans, Brown follows former Celtics star Paul Pierce down to the field.

Saturday’s loss is Colorado’s second in two weeks to Pac-12 powers, but considering TCU and Nebraska’s struggles since losses to Colorado, the Buffaloes’ second-half performance against USC makes a case as their best of the season, despite missing Hunter and Shilo Sanders, two of the stars of the defense, and in Hunter’s case, the offense, too. (Hunter is expected to be out the next two-to-three weeks while Shilo returned to practice this week ahead of a road game at Arizona State.)

McClain, the subject of Sanders’ ire early in the week, earns the biggest and most meaningful chunk of playing time of his young career. He’d mostly been used on special teams but didn’t play a snap in Colorado’s wins against TCU and Nebraska. He’d only played four defensive snaps all season, late at Oregon.

Against USC, he plays 45 total snaps and makes an impressive pass breakup in the end zone in the first half against USC receiver Brenden Rice, the son of NFL great Jerry Rice.

As part of his postgame speech in the locker room, Sanders pulls McClain to the center of the team circle.

“I’ve been on his butt, and I’m not gonna let up. I’m gonna keep my foot on his throat because I know he has it in him. Cormani, where you at?” Sanders asks as McClain makes his way to the middle of the team to loud applause.

McClain raises his hand toward Sanders on the raised stage. Sanders grabs it.

“I still love you, boy. I’m proud of you. Let’s stay locked in,” Sanders says.

This past week has proven once more there is no shortcut to joining the college football elite. But former Colorado All-American Jeremy Bloom says this team “has transcended football.” Win or lose, we’re talking about it, he says.

“They’re not done. They’re gonna win some more games,” one Pac-12 assistant says. “They do have some talent, just not that much depth. What Deion is doing is exceptional, and it’s great for college football, and it’s been great for the Pac-12. Just the energy he’s bringing to college football is awesome.”

Despite the loss and the relative deflation of college football’s biggest and most swollen balloon, Sanders preaches optimism as he sits in a packed room of reporters. The USC visit turns out to be the least-watched Colorado game of the year at 7.24 million viewers, still the game fans around the country tuned in for most in Week 5 by far.

“If you can’t see what’s coming with CU football, you’ve lost your mind. You just a flat-out hater if you can’t see what’s going on and what’s going to transpire over the next several months,” Sanders says. “Something’s wrong with you.”

While he’s still seated in the black folding chair with his left leg numb in the ice water, Sanders looks up to see a New York City-based jeweler hand him a blue box. Sanders opens it to find a custom diamond-encrusted whistle. The No. 21 is on each side.

Whether he wears it around his neck and lets it blare at practice or on game day remains to be seen. One way or another, Deion Sanders will continue to make noise.

The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman contributed reporting. 

(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic; Top photos of Deion Sanders and Shedeur Sanders: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images, RJ Sangosti / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images)