John "Deac" Sanders went with Plan B before finding out if Plan A was a possibility.
Not chosen in the 1973 NFL Draft coming out of the University of South Dakota, the two-time All-North Central Conference cornerback went from studying a playbook to instructing from a textbook as a world history teacher at West High School in Kansas City, Missouri.
"I was attracted to that for really one reason, and that was you were paid during the summer (recess) versus working all year round at a regular job," Sanders laughed. "I graduated in January, and had gotten a job. I went there hoping that perhaps I would be drafted. But I didn't get drafted. And so I had a job, but I didn't give up the idea.
"My wife, Barbara, wrote letters to the teams and, of course, nobody really responded positive. That fall, I went back to the university just to see how the other players were doing because we were ranked in the nation the year before.
"And while I was there, I found out that (former North Dakota State Head) Coach Ron Erhardt, who I played against, was coaching the running backs in New England. I wrote to him to see if I could get a tryout, and I did get a tryout."
Making the Patriots in 1974 as a backup safety, Sanders became a starting cornerback in Week 4, and finished his rookie campaign with five interceptions. The next season, he was the starting free safety.
After an Achilles injury sidelined him for most of the 1976 season, he was traded to Philadelphia in 1977 for an eighth-round draft choice the following year.
"I was excited that I was able to get picked up as opposed to being released from the Patriots to go to the Eagles and having an opportunity to play with another team as opposed to not playing at all," Sanders says.
Joining the Eagles with 30 games, 24 starts, of experience and six interceptions as well as five fumble recoveries, the start of Sanders' NFL resumé impressed his new Head Coach, Dick Vermeil.
"I remember when I was introduced to the team, he said, 'We brought in John Sanders, and he's going to help us win,'" Sanders says. "Looking back, Philadelphia didn't have a lot of top first-round draft choices. But Dick Vermeil's history, basically, was working hard. Where he went, he won. So I was glad to be able to be a part of the team."
In his first season with the Eagles, Sanders and Herm Edwards co-led the team with six interceptions apiece. In 1978, he was second on the team to Edwards with five picks and a touchdown on a 19-yard return off of Washington's Joe Theismann in a 17-10 home win.
The Eagles would post a 9-7 record, their first winning season since 1966, and make the playoffs for the first time since 1960. Yet, it was another game – actually, another play – which was more memorable that season. It occurred on November 17, when the division-rival New York Giants hosted Philadelphia and fumbled away a victory.
In what became known as the "Miracle of the Meadowlands," there were 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Edwards scored the come-from-behind game-winning touchdown after picking up a botched handoff between Joe Pisarcik and Larry Csonka and running 26 yards to paydirt. The Eagles traveled home with a 19-17 victory.
"After taking the possession, they did what they do now, take a knee. But when they took a knee, we didn't let up. We went through the line like it was full play," Sanders says. "A ruckus broke out because we really were not looking to give up. And so after that, they lined up and they gave the ball to Csonka, and he ran through the line and gained a good gain.
"So they just figured, 'OK, we'll just run it out.' And the next play, they gave the ball to him again. And that's when the missed handoff took place. Herm was playing corner and I was the safety. And when they missed the handoff, he was not blitzing, but basically was just coming in, and was able to scoop it up.
"That one move, I think, did a whole lot to change the culture of the team. Everybody criticizes the Giants for not taking a knee. But it's not brought up that we didn't let them. It forced them to have to, rather than do it again, run a play. Herm was at the right place at the right time, and that play right there still goes down in history."
Sanders got into the NFL a little later than he had hoped. And because of a knee injury, he left the game a little earlier than he had hoped, as well.
After three seasons with Philadelphia, Sanders retired in 1980 after collecting 17 interceptions, 11 as an Eagle, and helping turn the franchise around.
"I really played the last two years (1977 and '78) with no ligament in my right knee. They would come in and tape me up and everything. But the Eagles called me back in 1979 with four games left – two regular season games and two playoff games. And then they let me go at the beginning of the (1980) Training Camp," Sanders says.
"Just to be a part of a team that was moving in the right direction, being able to go to an established team like the Eagles and meet so many individuals who were just hard-working, fundamentally sound … The staff prepared us to compete, and that next year after I left, we went to the Super Bowl.
"I wasn't there, but the team that basically was part of that group in '77, '78 was the group that was able to actually get there. And so, from that, I learned a whole lot that has helped me in my business and things that we do now. All because of the fundamentals that I learned in the game with the coaching that we received from not only Dick Vermeil, but our position coach, Fred Bruney, and our defensive coordinator, Marion Campbell."
Following his time with the Eagles, Sanders was approached by A.L. Williams, the founder of what is now known as Primerica, and met with him and his staff.
"They sat down with me and gave me a Ph.D. education of managing money," Sanders says. "I was like, 'Man, this is stuff that everybody should know.' Because even today's NFL players, they're living paycheck to paycheck. And the regular society is living paycheck to paycheck. So it's a pandemic, all the way through middle America."
With Primerica for 42 years, Sanders is their National Sales Director. And after teaching world history to high school students and playing in the NFL, what does he enjoy most about his third career?
"I'm a financial coach. I teach people how to handle money and show them how to build wealth," Sanders says. "I help families to escape financial bondage. It gives them the opportunity to be able to make sure if something happens to them, how to protect your family."
Making their home in Pearl, Mississippi, Sanders and his wife Barbara's family consists of four sons: Jon'Tamrod (JT), Keenon, Jamal, and Justin, who is the defensive backs coach at Texas Southern University; six granddaughters, and one grandson.