JSU head football coach Deion Sanders delivers a pep talk to his team shortly before the kick-off of their first game of the season. JSU defeated Edward Waters College 53-0 at Veterans Memorial Stadium Sunday. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Deion Sanders got his first head coaching victory Sunday, and that was just for starters. He also got an icy Gatorade bath. He was presented a trophy on the field, and then his players awarded him the game ball in the locker room — “one of the best moments of my professional sports career,” he would call the game ball presentation.

You’d think he’d would have been smiling from ear to ear in his first postgame press conference as head football coach at Jackson State.

He was not.

“I’m pissed. I’ve got mixed emotions,” Sanders said, and then he said a whole lot more.

Rick Cleveland

He said he had been robbed, that someone had stolen his belongings out of the coaches’ dressing room while the game — a 53-0 JSU victory over Edward Waters College — was being played. He said somebody had pilfered his wallet, credit cards, cell phone and watches. “Thank God I had on my necklaces,” he said.

“So when I talk about raising the quality and raising the standards, that goes for everyone, not just the people on the field, not just the coaches, not just the teachers, not just the faculty — everybody, security and everybody.”

Just a few minutes later came the remarkable news that Sanders had not been robbed after all. His belongings had been moved for safekeeping. They were back in his possession.

So file this one under the category: All’s well that ends well…

Unless, that is, you are the Edward Waters College Tigers, a Division II school from Jacksonville, Fla. For Edward Waters, things did not begin well, proceed well or end well. And when it did mercifully end, the losers faced a nine-hour bus ride back to the east coast of Florida.

Edward Waters running back De’Shaun Hugee is stopped short of a first down by Jackson State’s defense. JSU won their first game of the season 53-0 Sunday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

So, what to make of the coaching debut of Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and a neophyte college head coach?

It’s hard to say. The talent differential between the two sets of Tigers was almost like men and boys. Edward Waters had won eight games and lost 35 over the last four seasons. They were playing a long way from home and decidedly out of their class.

Never mind Sanders’ Tigers were playing without many of their most highly touted recruits and transfers who won’t be eligible until the fall. The Mississippi Tigers were bigger, better and faster at virtually all positions. They took command from the outset.

The visitors’ return man was savaged at his own 19-yard line on the opening kickoff. A first down pass fluttered like a winged duck, landing nowhere near a human being. A second down run gained three yards. A third down pass was dropped by an JSU defender. And then came an 18-yard punt. And so it went…

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman attended Jackson State’s first game of the season. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

A Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium announced crowd of 11,000, including Sanders’ former Dallas Cowboys teammate Troy Aikman, applauded politely as JSU, breaking from tradition with bright red jerseys and trousers, rolled up the score, 17-0 after one quarter, 31-0 at half.

All in all, the game had the feel of a spring football game, which, come to think of it, it was — except that it counts in the record books. COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 SWAC fall football season. Some SWAC teams, such as Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State are playing abbreviated spring schedules. Others, such as Alcorn State, will wait until the fall. Jackson State and MVSU will play at The Vet Saturday for the second of the Tigers’ seven-game spring schedule.

We’ll know a little more Jackson State after that one — and a lot more after Sanders takes his team to Grambling State on March 6.

For now, all we know for sure is that Jackson State is infinitely better than Edward Waters and that Coach Prime, 1-0, got his valuables back to go with his game ball. Then, perhaps, he was able to smile.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.