Sanders changed the culture of football in Tallahassee before becoming a Hall-of-Fame, two-time Super Bowl champion and 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL. The cornerback and kick returner won the 1988 Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation’s best defensive back, and while he wowed college football fans by picking off everyone, including the likes of Brett Favre, some of his most impressive moments came on special teams.
The two-time All-American’s 15.2 yard punt return average was tops in the nation in 1988. He could cut on a dime, explode down the sideline, and slither through gaps between defenders like a snake (just don’t ever actually show him a snake).
During FSU’s famous “Puntrooskie” game against Clemson in 1988, Prime Time lived up to his nickname in the most epic way possible.
Deion Sanders 76-Yard Punt Return TD vs. Clemson
A quarter before FSU head coach Bobby Bowden dialed up the “Puntrooskie” inside Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, Deion Sanders took center stage and showed Clemson, the ACC and the rest of the football world that he could not only talk the talk but also walk the walk.
Before dropping back to receive a punt from the Clemson Tigers, Sanders could be seen running his mouth. As David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel told it, he was full on trash-talking the Clemson football team and head coach Danny Ford on the sideline.
“He had vowed to return a punt for a touchdown. The crowd knew what was going on and took it as a challenge. You could almost feel 80,000 people trying to impose their will on one player in white uniform,” Whitley wrote.Advertisement
Sanders fielded the punt at FSU’s 24-yard line. No. 2 cut twice, making a first defender clumsily walk past him. He hit two holes and was off for the running. One high step past the punter and that was all she wrote. Deion was gone into the end zone.
If there were ever an NCAA equivalent of Babe Ruth calling his home run shot, this would be it. The Seminoles needed a spark, and Deion delivered to tie the game at 14-14.
Seminole fans know how the rest of the game played out. FSU won the game, 24-21, on one of the most legendary plays in FSU football history. Florida State went on to beat the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium that year. It missed out on a national championship but won the Sugar Bowl over Auburn, finishing 11-1.
Deion Sanders became one of the best players in NFL history with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens. But the legend of Prime Time was born on September 17, 1988, the day he trashed talked Clemson’s head coach and followed through.