By sharing some of the football cards from my collection, my goal is to put a spotlight on some defensive backs who may have become underrated or have been forgotten by history.
Brian Jordan, DB, Atlanta Falcons (Fleer 1991; Upper Deck Vintage 2001)
While the NFL never really sleeps — free agency, trades, the draft, concussion studies and the daily soap opera that is Johnny Manziel‘s life still dominate the sports section this March — our attention will soon shift to Opening Day for Major League Baseball, a.k.a. The Sport Formerly Known As America’s Pastime.
In the annals of pro sports in this country, only about 70 men have played both football and baseball at the highest professional level. In the modern era, however, that club has become even more exclusive. Since 1970, only seven men have played in the NFL and in MLB.
Bo Jackson is probably the most famous. Deion Sanders is the most successful. And Brian Jordan is considered the last man to have an extended career as a pro in both sports.
Ironically, Jordan’s incredibly rare feat is often overshadowed because he hit the scene at the same time and shared so many similarities with Sanders. Both were selected in the 1988 MLB Draft. Both were also selected in the 1989 NFL Draft. Both played defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons. Both played in the outfield for the Atlanta Braves. Both played in the World Series.
But while Sanders had endorsement deals with Nike and Pepsi, put out a rap album and once hosted “Saturday Night Live,” Jordan was just a really good ballplayer without the superstar appeal. Sanders was a ton of substance (he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame) with all kinds of style. Jordan was mostly substance with some subtle style.
Jordan was taken by the Buffalo Bills in the 7th round of the ’89 NFL Draft out of Richmond with the 173rd overall pick. (Sanders, out of Florida State, was taken No. 5 overall.) Jordan was cut in training camp, but had no need to worry — he had been taken in the first round of the ’88 MLB Draft (Sanders went in the 30th round) and was doing the football thing at the same time he worked his way through the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor-league system.
While he was honing his skills to be a big-league baseball player, Jordan already had the skills to be a big-league football player. After being cut by the Bills he was signed by the Falcons and made their 53-man roster, appearing in four games as a rookie and recovering two fumbles that season.
In 1990 and ’91, Jordan went from little-used backup to Atlanta’s full-time starting strong safety. At the same time, Sanders was one of the team’s starting cornerbacks. Those two alone give those Falcons squads a decent argument for having fielded the most athletic secondary in NFL history.
Jordan compiled five interceptions, four sacks and two safeties in those two seasons. He also had an interception in Atlanta’s divisional-round playoff loss to Washington after the 1991 season. Jordan was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate that year. But just when it looked like his NFL star was on the rise, his football career ended.
In the spring of ’92, Jordan made his major league debut for the Cardinals and decided to focus solely on baseball.
Jordan played 15 years in the majors with the Cardinals, Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers. In 1996, he finished in the top-10 in National League MVP voting when he hit .310 with 17 home runs and 104 RBI and stole 22 bases for the Cardinals. In 1999, Jordan was an NL All-Star while hitting .283 with 23 homers and 115 RBI and scoring 100 runs for the Braves.
Five times Jordan played in the MLB postseason, making it to the World Series with the Braves in 1999. They lost to the New York Yankees in four games.
Jordan retired as a member of the Braves in 2006, finishing his career with a .282 batting average, 184 homers and 755 runs scored. And according to some advanced metrics, which I won’t pretend to understand, he could statistically be considered one of the best defensive right fielders in major league history.
Today, Jordan (whose Twitter moniker is @TwoSportMan) works in TV as a sports analyst, he is the owner of Game Face Apparel, and he runs the Brian Jordan Foundation, which is dedicated to creating and supporting programs for children.