Jackson State coach Deion Sanders has ultimate respect for Alcorn coach Fred McNair despite rivalry

J.T. Keith
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders and former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair's lives crossed, either on the playing field in the NFL or because of shared camaraderie of being in the NFL. 

A year separated the two from being teammates. Sanders came out of retirement to play his last two NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens (2004-05), finishing with five interceptions. 

 McNair threw for 4,163 yards and 18 touchdowns to finish his career with the Ravens (2006-07). Had Sanders come back to the Ravens in 2006, they would have been teammates. 

On Saturday, Jackson State and Alcorn State will battle in Soul Bowl.  McNair, who died in 2009, played at Alcorn, and his brother, Fred, is the coach there.  The rivalry between the schools is intense but with mutual respect.

Braves coach Fred McNair said his team will play Alcorn State football and not concern itself with what the No.1 offense and defense in the SWAC are doing.

“There are a lot of great players in this league," McNair said. "Every week a team has a great player you have to stop. We have to go out and execute and we will be OK.” 

During Monday’s SWAC coaches' call, Sanders spoke of his admiration and respect for McNair. 

“Alcorn is a storied school and university,” Sanders said. “I have the utmost respect. When I tell you the utmost respect, to me, Coach McNair is one of the leaders and pillars of the HBCUs.”

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Sanders said he took his son, Shedeur Sanders, on a recruiting trip to the University of Southern Mississippi. Alcorn State played USM that day, and after the game, Sanders said he took it upon himself to go into the Braves' locker room to meet McNair and his team. 

“That’s how much love and respect and admiration I have for him,” Sanders said. He’s a gift, a gift to the SWAC and any coaching unit he has been a part of. I just got love for him.”

Sanders said the Alcorn rivalry is going to be fun and pointed out the proximity of the campuses, located about 70 miles apart.

There is a lot riding on the game Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN+) because Alcorn (5-5, 4-3 SWAC) has a shot at winning the West Division.  For that to happen, Alcorn has to upset JSU (10-0, 7-0) and needs help from a one-win Mississippi Valley State team to beat Prairie View (6-4, 5-2). Alcorn, seeking its sixth consecutive six-win season, brings a two-game winning streak into the game, having defeated Prairie View (23-16) and Bethune-Cookman (17-14).

Jackson State brings a 10-game winning streak into the game as it attempts to go undefeated in the regular season for the first time in program history.