Deion Sanders has made Boulder, Colorado, the improbable center of the sports world.
Why it matters: In Sanders’ first year, he’s led the once-hapless Colorado Buffaloes to a 3-0 start. Among his biggest supporters — Black fans around the country.
The big picture: Black households have been glued to the Buffs’ first few televised games.
Celebrities from Snoop Dogg to Dwayne Johnson are hyping the Buffs.
Black teachers, with no previous connections to Colorado, on social media call Sanders an inspiration.
Details: Sanders, aka Coach Prime, led the Buffs to a dramatic 43-35 double-overtime win over Colorado State on Saturday.
Lil Wayne, the Wu-Tang Clan and several NFL stars were among those on hand to watch the game as both ESPN’s “College GameDay” and Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” broadcasted pre-game shows from Boulder.
Superstars like LeBron James posted moments from the game on social media, including praising Colorado players’ athletic actions.
Zoom in: Not since the Los Angeles Raiders of the 1980s or Michigan’s men’s basketball team The Fab Five of the 1990s has a team captivated Black America and hip-hop culture like the Buffs have so far.
Carl Suddler, an associate professor of history at Emory University, tells Axios that watching Sanders receive this kind of support from Black folks on social media has been exciting in the early weeks of the season.
“In this ‘new age’ of college football, he seems to be a one-of-a-kind draw — and hire — that may have more staying power than college football folks may have initially expected.”
By the numbers: Colorado Buffaloes merchandise has become some of the hottest sports gear with sales skyrocketing over 800% from last season.
Shirts and hoodies with Prime quotes “We Coming” or “I ain’t hard to find” are, well, hard to find.
Catch up quick: Sanders took over a program that was 1-11 last season and used the transfer protocol to revamp the team with former players from historically Black colleges and universities.
He warned players from the previous Colorado Buffaloes team they might not have a spot and urged them to leave to make room for other players.
During the first game, Colorado shocked the college football world by beating TCU, last year’s national title runner-up, 45-42, in a contest that drew a large Black TV audience.
What he’s saying: “It’s tremendous. It’s not a burden whatsoever. It’s a blessing,” Sanders told reporters after being asked about people comparing Colorado to the Fab Five or being called Black America’s Team.
Sanders said his players weren’t even born when those other teams were playing but his older coaches know and see similarities.
“I don’t think our young men inside that locker room understand the moment.”
Zoom out: Sanders, known for his swag and boasting, has brought that personality to Colorado and drawn criticism from other college coaches.
Yet that swag once displayed by Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson and scores of Negro League baseball players is attractive to many Black Americans in the face of discrimination.
“So many people hold on to the misguided belief that there are ‘right ways’ to do something, to achieve the highest success in sports. And that ‘right way’ for Black folks ought to be as far from flashy as possible,” Suddler said.
Yes, but: While Black America is embracing the Colorado Buffaloes, Boulder is a town with a Black population of 1%.
The University of Colorado has a Black student population of less than 3%.
Nearby Denver has a Black population of 9%, and its Five Points neighborhood was once called the “Harlem of the West.”
The historic Black neighborhood where Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis once performed in packed rooms has become a major base for Sanders’ support.
What’s next: No. 19 Colorado Buffaloes take on No. 10 Oregon on Saturday in what will likely be the weekend’s most-watched college football matchup.