- Height: 5' 8"
- Weight: 203 lbs.
- Date Of Birth: July 16, 1968
- Hometown: Wichita, Kansas
- College: Oklahoma State University
- Mascot: Pistol Pete
- High School: North Wichita High School
- Position: Running Back (RB)
- Draft: first round, third overall, Detroit Lions, 1989
One of greatest assets a running back can possess is explosiveness. Explosiveness allows a running back to seemingly disappear. One second he's there and the next, he's gone. Barry Sanders is perhaps the most explosive running back in the history of football. Sanders used this explosiveness to amass one of the most impressive careers in football history.
Sanders was born on July 16, 1968 in Wichita, Kansas. After playing high school ball at North Wichita High School, Sanders played in college at Oklahoma State University. His first two years were spent primarily as a back up to All-American, and future NFL star Thurman Thomas. Despite being a backup, Sanders was still able to rack up a combined 947 yards rushing and 11 rushing touchdowns his first two years. However, it was when Thomas left for the NFL after the 1987 season that Sanders was able to make his mark on college football, and a large mark it was. As a junior in 1988, Sanders set 34 NCAA records on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Among those records were: single season rushing yards (2,628), total yards (3,249), rushing touchdowns (37), total touchdowns (39), and most points (234). Some have called this the greatest season in the history of college football. In addition to the Heisman, Sanders also won the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award, and was a First Team All-American that same year. Following this incredible season, Sanders decided to skip his senior year and enter the NFL Draft.
Despite concerns by some that Sanders' 5' 8” frame was not large enough for the NFL, the Lions selected Sanders with the third overall pick of the 1989 NFL Draft. Sanders quickly demonstrated that his size had no effect on his talent. His very first carry in the NFL went for 18 yards, but this was just the start to an awesome rookie campaign. His smaller height and stocky build allowed him to establish a low center of gravity which, combined with his explosiveness and jaw-dropping agility, allowed him to elude and break countless tackles. Sanders won Rookie of the Year, was named to his first of what would be ten Pro Bowls, and rushed for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie in 1989.
Sanders did nothing but continue to pile up yards throughout the rest of his career. He followed up his rookie season with 1,304 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns in 1990. In 1993 he rushed for over 1,100 yards even though he missed five regular season games. He gained a total of 2,166 yards from scrimmage in 1994 (1,883 rushing, 283 receiving). However, the highlight of Sanders' career came in 1997 when he became only the third running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season (2,053). Despite all his individual success, the Lions never made it to the Super Bowl during Sanders' career. They made it to the playoffs a total of five times during his career, but the only time the Lions made it past the first round was in 1991.
Even though he established himself as one of the premier running backs in NFL history, Sanders never allowed his fame to control him. He was known throughout his entire career as a humble player, rarely seen celebrating after a touchdown, but preferring to congratulate his teammates.
Sanders shocked the world by announcing his retirement after the 1998 season. He had only played ten NFL seasons and was seemingly in his prime. He would have easily broken Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, possibly even the following year. Sanders finally announced a few years later that the Lions' inability to consistently win and propensity to lose was his reason for retiring. Sanders finished his career with 15,269 rushing yards, 99 rushing touchdowns, 2,921 receiving yards, and 10 receiving touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowler each of his ten years in the league, two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and was named Co-NFL MVP in 1997. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Career Highlights, Awards, and Accolades:
- Led NCAA in rushing in 1988 with an all-time record 2,628 rushing yards while at Oklahoma State.
- Set 34 NCAA records during the 1988 season.
- 1988 Heisman Trophy winner.
- 1988 First-Team All-American.
- 1988 Maxwell Award winner.
- 1988 Walter Camp Award winner.
- NFL Rookie of the Year on 1989.
- NFL Co-MVP in 1997.
- Two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
- Became third player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season in 1997.
- Set NFL record in 1997 with 14 straight 100-yard rushing games.
- First player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons.
- Only player in NFL history to rush for 1,500 yards five times.
- Led NFL in rushing four times: 1990, 1994, 1996, and 1997.
- 10-time Pro Bowler: 1989-98.
- 10-time All-Pro: 1989-98.
- Ranks third all-time in NFL history with 15,269 career rushing yards.
- Ranks fifth all-time in NFL history with 18,190 career yards from scrimmage.
- Lions retired his #20 jersey in 2004.
- Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.