If ever there was a running back who could turn a two-yard loss into an 80-yard touchdown, it was Barry Sanders. Perhaps the most elusive runner to ever play the game, he was a legitimate threat to go all the way every time he touched the ball. A product of Oklahoma State University, Sanders cut, spun, juked and sprinted his way into a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Lions and onto the list of the greatest running backs of all time.
Selected by the Lions No. 3 overall in the 1989 NFL Draft, Sanders electrified NFL fans right from the beginning with an 18-yard run the first time he carried the ball, and a touchdown on his fourth attempt. He also ran for 71 yards on just nine carries in that first game, averaging 7.9 yards every time he touched the ball. Perhaps the most amazing thing about his performance, though, is that it came just three days after signing his first contract with the Lions following a holdout that resulted in him missing all of his first training camp.
Sanders went on to win Rookie of the Year honors after posting 1,470 yards on the ground, just ten yards shy of the rushing title. And in the process, he displayed his lack of interest in individual accolades by declining to re-enter the final game of the season just so he could set the mark.
If defenses weren't aware of Sanders' abilities following his rookie season, they certainly knew who he was after year two. Putting together one of the all-time great seasons for a running back, he carried the ball for 2,053 yards and posted a gaudy 6.2 yards-per-carry average for the season.
Over the next decade, Sanders gave defenses fits. Routinely, he seemed to be bottled up only to break out of the pack for a long gain. Along the way, he landed many awards and eclipsed a multitude of milestones. But, because he rarely had a quality supporting cast surrounding him, he never gained the Super Bowl championship he so desperately coveted.
Ten times in his first ten seasons, Sanders rushed for more than 1,000 yards, becoming the first back in NFL history to do so. Only once in his career did he run for less than 1,300 yards in a season. Five times he ran for more than 1,500 yards, and two other times he was just under that mark.
Based on his numbers, a case can certainly be made for Sanders as the best pure runner of all time. He was an All Pro eight times and a Pro Bowl selection every year he played. And he won an NFL MVP award in 1997.
But, tired of the losing culture that encompassed the Lions at the time, Sanders walked away from the game while still in his prime and on the verge of breaking the all time rushing record held at the time by Walter Payton. Still, he took with him nearly every Lions' rushing record and many other NFL records. And in 2004, he received his much-deserved enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Born: Barry David Sanders - July 16, 1968 - Wichita, Kansas
Drafted: Barry Sanders was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the third overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft.
Years Played: 1989-1998
Position Played: Running Back
Uniform Number: 20
Played For: Detroit Lions
Alma Mater: Oklahoma State
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: 2004
Other Members of the Class of 2004: John Elway, Carl Eller, Bob Brown
• Won the 1988 Heisman Trophy as a junior at Oklahoma State
• Set the all-time NCAA single season record with 2,628 rushing yards, 234 points scored and 39 touchdowns
Best NFL Season
In 1997, Barry Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards and 11 touchdowns, and caught 33 passes for 305 yards and three touchdown.
NFL Career Totals
• Rushing - 3,062 Carries for 15,269 Yards and 99 Touchdowns
• Receiving - 352 Receptions for 2,921 Yards and 10 Touchdowns
• 15,269 career rushing yards
• 109 career touchdowns (99 rushing, 10 receiving)
• 76 100-yard rushing games
• 10 consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons (1989-1998)
• Tied NFL record for total 1,000-yard rushing seasons
• NFC Rookie of Year (1989)
• 2-time NFL Player of Year (1991,97)
• 10-time Pro Bowl selection (1989-1998)
• Five-time NFC rushing leader (1989,90,94,96,97)
• Four-time NFL rushing leader (1990,94,96,97)
• Set NFL single-season records for most 100-yard rushing games and most consecutive 100-yard games (14 in 1997)
• Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2004)