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EXTRA! EXTRA! // He's Prime and ready

Ben Franklin advised a young America that "a penny saved is a penny earned." Now, from a different kind of statesman, Deion Sanders, comes a XXX-generation jock motto to suggest "if it don't make dollars, it don't make sense."

Words to live (lavishly) by.

Diamonds studded Sanders' ears. Gold dangled from neck and right wrist. Left wrist wore a $30,000 Rolex watch loaded with ice. Deion is worth maybe $50-million. He's more famous than Newt Gingrich. More imitated than Madonna. He had just arrived in a stretch limo.

"Only two words I really hate in the English language," says this Tiffany's who runs on skinny legs, "are failure and broke."

Sanders, at 28, is about 50-million greenbacks from broke. But re: his other loathed word, Deion admits, "Failure is a devil that's always trying to break into your house."

Super Bowl premonition?

"Come Sunday, I'm going to act a damn fool and I'll have fun doing it. No matter what anybody says about Deion, when I step on a field the only real business is about winning."

In the 18th century, before the Dallas Cowboys and Super Bowls were invented, pilgrims would gather at Franklin's feet in search of perspective and direction.

Sorry I missed Ben.

But now, in an Arizona quest of a 1996 version, I find myself seated at Deion's unlaced Nikes, working to plow through the bejeweled glitz and rapping rhetoric, searching for wisdom from the inner man.

"Don't need no fame and fortune from Super Bowls," says Sanders, a football-baseball-advertising virtuoso to whom NBC will exclusively assign one of its Sunday cameras. "I'm already blessed with enough riches and notoriety for 10 lifetimes.

"First thing when I get up in the morning, I thank the man upstairs. It's also the last thing I do before going to bed at night. How many would expect me to be a man of prayer?

"You know why I'm disliked by some? It's because I'm too happy. They expect athletes to show strain and pain. I play my games hard, but I'm always having fun.

"I have fun making TV commercials. I have fun being Deion. It's sad, but some in the public hate seeing me have fun all the time. Somebody tell me why that's a bad idea.

"Few folks really know me. Most everybody thinks I've got to have a stage. That's untrue. At this point, I don't live for attention. I've had it all my life.

"I didn't ask all you media to come huddling around me. But when somebody does choose to look at me, I feel an urge to perform at my best; to show off."

In a preamble to Super Bowl XXX, the gifted gazelle was surrounded by 45 reporters and nine TV mini-cams. European media asked Dallas Deion to say hello to Sweden, Germany, France and Spain.

Even with such global acclaim, Deion still falls a proverb or two shy of being today's Ben Franklin. We must work, while watching Sanders and listening, to separate real from fantasy, and sincere from hypocritical.

Just for fun, let's flip through a few more pages of Not-So-Poor Deion's Almanac. Take it for what it's worth. "We, the Dallas Cowboys, are football's most loved and most hated," said the defensive back/wide receiver/entertainer.

"We're the team that millions love to hate. We're good. We know we're good. Lots of people don't approve of such an attitude. They like seeing humility. But when you're as good as the Cowboys are, it's hard to be humble, so most of us don't waste a lot of time trying."

He's right about that.

Sanders grew up mud-poor in North Fort Myers. No father around. "Did I have a hero?" Deion says. "You bet. It was my mama. She clothed me, made me, took me to school, taught me right from wrong. People say I need to be a role model. I say I don't want your kid to be like me; I want him or her to be better than I am."

Jim Thorpe was legendary. Bo Jackson was a phenomenon. Both were extraordinary at football, baseball and other sports. But only Sanders has played in both a Super Bowl and a World Series.

"Super Bowls are bigger," said No.

21, who helped the San Francisco 49ers win an NFL championship a year ago. "You get seven shots to win four times in baseball's biggest show. But when the Cowboys go against Pittsburgh, it's one do-or-die swing at the glory."

What began at age 7 with the Fort Myers Rebels in Pop Warner Football blossomed to intercontinental fame at Florida State, then mushroomed into riches with Atlanta's Falcons and Braves, Cincinnati's Reds, San Francisco's 49ers and Giants and now the Cowboys. "I've been high-stepping," Deion said, "since '74."

Sanders talked about being a father. He has two children. Their names are Deion adaptations. Daughter Deiondra is 5, son Deion Jr. is 2.

"If, when I get old, I'm still remembered by a lot of people," Deion Sr. says, "I hope it's not for football, baseball, my TV ads or for being rich. I hope it's for being a good father.

"Ten or 15 years from now, I'd like to be spending a lot of time by some fishing hole, telling some lies. What would I like to do professionally, once I retire as an athlete? Well, to be very honest, I'd like to be general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. I could do a good job. But they need to jack up the pay for that job."

If it don't make (a lot of) dollars, it don't make sense (to Prime Time Neon Deion) Sanders. That's not exactly Ben Franklin, but it is being frank.

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