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TV sports: Deion shines brightest

By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001

Deion Sanders has seen the light.

The red light, that is. The one that tells him the camera is rolling and he's closer to prime time than ever.

Sanders is so gleeful about his new job with CBS' pregame show the NFL Today that he barely can contain himself.

"I can really see what the Lord is doing through television," said Sanders, who in case you missed it, was famously born again a few years ago. "It's phenomenal. I didn't understand the magnitude and power of television until I took this job.

"You get a lot of face time. Your words go a long way. I mean a long way. More and more people are tuning in every week to see just what we're going to say. Just to see our opinion."

Sanders never has been shy about his yen for the spotlight, and it's a quality that is translating well on television. Ratings are up on the NFL Today, and that at least can partially be credited to the spark he provides as a guest analyst and reporter.

"They just slap me on the butt and tell me to "Be yourself,' " he said.

So he does. He dresses uniquely, smiles a lot and can't keep his mouth shut. It's the same old Sanders -- but it's also oddly refreshing. He brings life to a show that last year struggled at times to get half the viewers of Fox NFL Sunday.

For now, he's more of a special contributor in the vein of Lesley Visser, profiling players and teams. But he is at his best as a guest analyst, making remarks off the cuff and planned -- as when he skewered his former team, the Redskins, in his first appearance more than a month ago.

It's a good bet he'll be seated alongside his former coach, Jerry Glanville, and the other studio analysts next season. But Sanders said he doesn't enjoy one role more than another.

"I like when I see that red light looking at me," he said. "That's pretty much what I'm liking the best. ... I'm really just having a ball doing what I'm doing. I can't believe they actually pay us at the end of the week for this stuff."

SHOWDOWN ON SUNSHINE: Sunshine Network's broadcast of the Florida-Florida State basketball game at 7 tonight anchors its weekend programming, which also includes plenty of buildup for Saturday's football game.

Tonight's Sunshine Network Live at 6:30 previews both matchups. After the basketball game, which will be called by WGN's Chip Caray, the network will air a one-hour football pregame special. Caray also will do play-by-play commentary for Sunshine's tape-delayed broadcast of the football game, which airs at 8 a.m. Sunday.

MOVIE NOTES: ESPN announced this week actor Brian Dennehy will play Bob Knight in its first made-for-TV movie, A Season on the Brink, based on John Feinstein's bestseller by the same name. It will air March 10. Dennehy won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Willie Loman in Showtime's Death of a Salesman and has appeared in feature films such as Presumed Innocent, Legal Eagles, North Dallas Forty, Cocoon and Gorky Park. ... ABC's remake of Brian's Song, the 1971 blockbuster TV movie that won five Emmys for the network, will air at 7 p.m. Dec. 2.

FINE TUNING: Sunday's Bucs-Bears game marks the return of Fox's No. 1 team, John Madden and Pat Summerall, to Raymond James Stadium. The game will be seen by 75 percent of U.S. markets, as opposed to Sunday's Bucs-Lions game, which aired only in a few Florida markets. ... Sunday night's SportsCenter, where Mark McGwire told ESPN's Rich Eisen about his retirement, was the highest rated of the year. It had a 3.11 rating and reached more than 2.65-million homes. ... ESPN will air 2001 Salute to Women in Sports at 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving. The hourlong program will be hosted by actor Holly Hunter.

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