Oh, I was on the very same ride. Hopped on the bandwagon, geared up, showed up, loved every minute of it. Four-and-one! Or… ughh, 4-8, doesn’t matter; it was a ride of epic proportion and one that will likely never be replicated.

Sports, perhaps like nothing else, can bring people together.

And apparently Deion Sanders, a sports figure and then some, can do the same thing. That’s why he was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, an elite and coveted honor that’s been given annually since 1954.

Sports Illustrated has annually presented the Sportsman of the Year award to “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” (look it up, that’s what Wiki tells us).

Based on the award’s very definition, Sanders is an interesting choice. Even though the Buffs program made strides from a year ago, with just four wins on the season, “achievement” – at least by measure of wins and losses – could not have been the criteria.

And while it would but unfair to say Sanders wasn’t a “good sport,” it’s also fair to say he and his team demonstrated both great sportsmanship (i.e. – publicly forgiving  CSU’s Henry Blackburn for a dirty hit that put star WR/DB Travis Hunter out for three-and-a-half games) and questionable sportsmanship (like “keeping receipts” or flashing a Rolex toward the opposition and its fans). That’s not to pass judgement either way – that’s not the point – it’s  simply to say that collectively, the masses would not necessarily agree that Sanders exhibited extraordinary sportsmanship – at least consistently.

Is it not fair to say that Sanders met neither of the awards stated criteria? As is often the case in a good sports debate, there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Some, like me, believe Sanders is a deserving (if not clever) choice; the ride was exhilarating. Others, like the Washington Post, might cite the sudden irony of the award; he did go 4-8.

A quick look at past winners is essentially a roll call of bona fide champions with a few successful sports figures who did something philanthropically or socially significant mixed in. It’s Steph Curry or Tom Brady for winning MVP honors paired with J.J. Watt for his generosity during Hurricane Harvey or a handful of impactful athletes during the tumultuous times of 2020. All are deserving, but let’s be honest, SI has also been very good at selecting “conversation worthy” winners, and Sanders most definitely checks that box.

Per SI.com: “Colorado football coach Deion Sanders has been named Sports Illustrated’s 2023 Sportsperson of the Year. In less than a year, Coach Prime has not only transformed the Colorado football program. He’s also breathed fresh life into the campus and transformed a community.”

Pat Forde’s accompanying story is excellent, adequately and romantically painting the picture of why a guy named “Prime” is a worthy choice. Again, I’m not arguing that Sanders isn’t deserving. Remember, I was on the ride, loving every minute, thankful that someone – anyone – had made football at the University of Colorado relevant once again. And you can agree or disagree with the choice; everyone has every right to have an opinion on the matter.

But that Sanders is an “interesting” choice is a indisputable. What he “did’ is not traditional in terms of the award’s long and prestigious history. What he “did” is, or better yet, “how he did it,” has been the topic of great controversy since the moment he took the job almost a year ago. Love him or hate him, Prime has occupied the headlines and airwaves for 12 straight months – and that’s hard to do in the fast-paced, wide, wide world of 24/7 sports.

Selecting Sanders can also be interpreted as a reflection of what we – “society,” if you want to be all proper about it – value of late.

We like, in no particular order: Flash, fun, self-promotion, celebrity, confidence, money, pizzazz, glitz and glam.

Wait, did you read that list as bunch of negatives? You might have. And maybe you don’t value those things. But clearly, based on the wild popularity of Prime this year, plenty of people value the words on that list. Generally speaking, whether we like to admit or not, we do.

To be fair though, here’s another list of things that embody what Sanders did or represented at Colorado: Work, family, resolve, honesty and rising from the ashes. He also made Boulder, Colo. truly think about race (no small task).

None of which would ever be viewed in a negative light. We happily admit to valuing such concepts.

For better or worse, what Prime did was different on a scale that we’ve never seen.

But to offer another perspective, especially for those local to Colorado, why wouldn’t Sports Illustrated consider a guy like Nikola Jokic?

Talk about a guy who’s changing the game. He’s the most “opposite NBA” thing the NBA has ever produced.

He’s quiet. He doesn’t have social media, much less a world-class team to run his accounts. He can’t jump. He doesn’t promote and rarely does endorsements. He demonstrates sportsmanship at every turn; remember, it was Jokic who shook hands with everyone on the Heat before any celebration with his team). He didn’t, but then kind of did, like “f*<3ing parade.” His game is so different that it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen; he’s Jordan-esque in his uniqueness while doing it 180-degrees differently than His Airness. He’s won two league MVPs and a Finals MVP in three consecutive seasons. And oh-by-the-way, he brought an NBA title to sleepy ol’ Denver, something that was every bit as unlikely as the Colorado Buffaloes becoming the top story in sports this year. To say that Jokic meets the criteria as outlined by Sports Illustrated is an understatement – he is the criteria.

Still, that’s not a knock on Prime. Either man would have been an excellent choice for SI’s Sportsperson of the Year. Either man is (or would have been) deserving. But wow are they different.

Perhaps this year’s winner is a reflection of us.

And that’s okay, too.