Interviews

Deion Sanders' Secrets to Staying Fitter Than Ever at 50

Deion Sanders is still looking Neon at age 50—and that’s no accident.

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Deion Sanders
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In the game of life, the marquee matchup might be Father Time vs. Prime Time.

Aging has an unbeaten record and a merciless reputation, but it has never lined up opposite Deion Sanders, the original NFL shutdown and showtime cornerback, who made a Hall of Fame career by containing and controlling the league’s most feared wide receivers. And he did it with an unmatched swagger that remains the standard for next-gen athletes in all sports. “I’ve always been the hunted, never the hunter,” Sanders says.

Prime Time is now 50. Even though it has been more than a decade since his last sideline streak for a touchdown, Sanders still looks game-ready. “I’ve got about a quarter of a game in me,” he says. Sanders is remembered as a rare two-sport player: a two-time unanimous All-American for the Florida State football team, two Super Bowl wins (with the 49ers and Cowboys) and 53 career interceptions in the NFL, and one day when he became the only athlete to play in baseball and football games professionally on the same day. This storied career is enshrined in his personal studio for the NFL Network, where he serves as an NFL analyst.

Sanders is leaner and more muscular today, and he says he feels better than he did in 1989 as the Gucci-glasses-wearing Atlanta Falcons phenom the sports world wasn’t quite ready for. Instead of covering Jerry Rice, he’s defending his body against aging. “I want to look good,” Sanders says. “I don’t want to be the strongest and the fastest. I want to look the strongest and the fastest.”

Even Prime Time’s face is still fab, courtesy of Botox Cosmetic. (He’s the brand’s spokesman.)

“I’m different at 50,” Sanders says. “I’m a go-getter. I don’t sit back and ask for permission to do this or that. I go and get it. When I train,if I say,‘I don’t like the way I look in that shirt,’ well, dammit, I’m gonna do something about it—eat right, work out, cardio, abs work. I’m going to do what I need to do to get to where I want to be.”

In his studio, Sanders is surrounded by personal memorabilia. He points to a Sports Illustrated cover from 1989—Jheri curl, gold chains, all-black attire—as his most defining image but says the photo misrepresented him. “When you look at that, you see a black man in luxury, someone who’s probably arrogant and a braggadocio and self-absorbed,” he says. That shot, he says, fed into the misconception that he didn’t put in the work required for greatness. “It’s my fault,” he says. “People didn’t think that Arnold Schwarzenegger really was the Terminator or that Matt Damon really was Jason Bourne. But you all thought I really was Prime Time. That was something I created in college to make sure my mother would never have to work another day. Without that image, there would be no Prime Time. But I always worked for it.”

Turning the image into greatness, Sanders says, happens “when no one is looking.” So when the fans saw Neon Deion stepping out of private jets and limos, they missed the extracurricular training that took place when the cameras were gone. “By the time I got to the hotel room [after a game], there was an exercise bike waiting for me.” His secret: “I live on purpose, with purpose. I maximize moments.”

Sanders knows his training style may not work for everyone. (“I’d make a terrible personal trainer,” he says.) But his words will always be a timeless motivator. “You need to make time for you,” he says. “You are your biggest commodity. It may sound ignorant, but your appearance is your selling card.”

Sanders admits he isn’t your typical workout warrior and doesn’t subscribe to a traditional training routine. “There’s no reason for me to have a program,” he says. “I just do me.” But his Texas estate (east of Dallas) is the ultimate home gym. Kettlebells, dumbbells, stability balls, and pullup bars are dispersed throughout. There’s even a treadmill on his porch, so skipping a training session is not an option. “Even if I’m just waiting for the shower water to warm, there’s no reason I can’t bang out 50 pushups,” he says.

But Sanders is known for speed—at the 1989 NFL Scouting Combine, he ran 40 yards in a legendary 4.27 seconds—so running remains his passion. He’ll pop on headphones (“I like to run to Lil Wayne”) and run for 15 minutes at a nearby course. He’ll still throw in ten 50-yard dashes, followed by about 400 situps and 200 pushups.

It may not be the glitzy and trendy workout, but take it from the master of swagger: Do something, and you won’t dispute the results. “My one rule?” Sanders says. “You don’t have to be the best, but give me your best. When you start second- guessing your best, obviously it wasn’t your best.”

NFL ICONAn eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Sanders was inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

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