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Barry Sanders (born July 16, 1968) is a former American football running back. He played professionally for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL). A Pro Bowl invitee in each of his ten NFL seasons and two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Sanders led the league in rushing yards four times and established himself as one of the most elusive runners in pro football with his quickness and agility. In 2007, he was ranked by NFL Network's NFL Top 10 series as the most elusive runner in NFL history, [[CITE|undefined|]] and also topped its list of greatest players never to play in a Super Bowl. [[CITE|undefined|]]

Sanders played college football for the Oklahoma State Cowboys football team, where as a junior in 1988 he compiled what is considered one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history, [[CITE|undefined|]] rushing for 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns in 12 games. He was awarded the Heisman Trophy as the most outstanding college player in the nation and was unanimously recognized as an All-American. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

Sanders joined the Lions in 1989 and had an immediate impact, winning the NFL's Rookie of the Year award. Through ten seasons in Detroit, he averaged over 1,500 rushing yards per season and just under 100 rushing yards per game. In 1997, he became the third player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season and was named the NFL Most Valuable Player. Still seemingly in his prime, Sanders unexpectedly retired from football after the 1998 season, 1,457 yards short of breaking the NFL's all-time rushing record. His number 20 jersey was retired by the Lions, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Early years

Born in Wichita, Kansas, Sanders attended Wichita North High School. [[CITE|undefined|]] Sanders started at tailback his sophomore year, but his brother Byron started before him in that position the following year. Sanders did not become the starting running back until the fourth game of his senior year. He rushed for 1,417 yards in the final seven games of the season, which earned him all-state honors. During that seven-game span, Sanders averaged 10.2 yards per carry, but he was overlooked by most college recruiters. Although he was a stellar athlete, Sanders received scholarship offers from only Emporia State University, University of Tulsa, and Oklahoma State University-Stillwater.

College career

Enrolling at Oklahoma State University, Sanders played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys from 1986 to 1988, and wore the No. 21. During his first two years, he backed up All-American Thurman Thomas. In 1987, he led the nation in yards per kickoff return (31.6), while also rushing for over 600 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns. Thomas moved on to the NFL, and Sanders became the starter for his junior year.

In 1988, in what is considered one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history, [[CITE|undefined|]] [50] Sanders led the nation by averaging 7.6 yards per carry and over 200 yards per game, including rushing for over 300 yards in four games. Despite his massive workload of 344 carries, Sanders was still used as the team's punt and kickoff returner, adding another 516 yards on special teams. He set college football season records with 2,628 yards rushing, 3,248 total yards, 234 points, 39 touchdowns, 37 rushing touchdowns, 5 consecutive 200 yard games, scored at least 2 touchdowns in 11 consecutive games, and 9 times he scored at least 3 touchdowns. Sanders also ran for 222 yards and scored 5 touchdowns in his three quarters of action in the 1988 Holiday Bowl, a game that is not included in the official NCAA season statistics. [[CITE|undefined|]] Sanders learned of his Heisman Trophy win while he was with the team in Tokyo, Japan preparing to face Texas Tech in the Coca-Cola Classic. [[CITE|undefined|]] He chose to leave Oklahoma State before his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

Sanders set 34 NCAA Division I FBS records in his college career, and still holds the following records: [[CITE|undefined|]] [[CITE|undefined|]]

  • Most rushing yards in a season: 2,628
  • Most rushing touchdowns in a season: 37
  • Most touchdowns in a season: 39 (tied with Montee Ball)
  • Most games rushing for 300+ yards in a season and career: 4
  • Highest average rushing yards per game in a season: 238.9
  • Most points scored in a season: 234

Professional career

The Detroit Lions selected Sanders with the 3rd overall pick in the 1989 Draft, [[CITE|undefined|]] thanks to the endorsement of then-coach Wayne Fontes. The Lions' management considered drafting another Sanders, cornerback Deion Sanders, but Fontes convinced them to draft Barry instead. He was offered No. 20, which had been worn by former Lions greats Lem Barney and Billy Sims; Sims was one of the league's best running backs in the early 1980s, and Fontes had requested Sanders to wear the number in tribute to Sims. [[CITE|undefined|]]

Though there were concerns about his size, it turned out these concerns were unfounded.

In 1989, Sanders missed his rookie year training camp due to a contract dispute.

Sanders was the featured running back on the Lion teams that made the playoffs five times during the 1990s (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1997).

In 1994, Sanders rushed for 1,883 yards, on a 5.7 yards per carry average.

Sanders' greatest season came in 1997 when he became a member of the 2,000 rushing yards club. After a start in which he gained 53 yards on 25 carries in the first two games of the season (though he passed Eric Dickerson as the active leader in career rushing yards), Sanders ran for an NFL record 14 consecutive 100 yard games, including two 200 yard performances, en route to rushing for 2,053 yards. In reaching the 2,000 yard plateau, he became only the third player to do so in a single season and the first since O. J. Simpson to rush for 2,000 yards in a span of 14 consecutive games. He was the first running back to rush for 1,500 yards in five seasons and the only one to do it four consecutive years. At the end of the season, Sanders shared the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player Award with Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

In Sanders' last season in the NFL, 1998, he rushed for 1,491 yards, ending his four-year streak of rushing for over 1,500 yards in a season.

Despite his individual success, the Lions never reached the Super Bowl while Sanders was with the team. [[CITE|undefined|]] The closest they came was in the 1991 season. [[CITE|undefined|]] Aided by Sanders' 1,855 combined rushing/receiving yards and 17 touchdowns during the season, they recorded a 12–4 record and went on to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 38–6 in the divisional playoffs, which still stands as Detroit's only playoff victory since defeating the Cleveland Browns to win the 1957 NFL Championship. The Lions lost to the Washington Redskins 41–10 in the NFC Championship Game, and Sanders was held to 59 total yards in the game.

In Sanders' career, he achieved Pro Bowl status in all of his 10 seasons.

In contrast to many of the star players of his era, Sanders was also noted [[CITE|undefined|]] for his on-field humility.

On July 27, 1999, Sanders announced he was retiring from pro football.

He left football healthy, having gained 15,269 rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 touchdowns (99 rushing and 10 receiving).

Sanders' retirement came somewhat unexpectedly and was a matter of controversy.

It was thought by some that Lions head coach Bobby Ross himself may have actually been the reason for his early retirement, but in his autobiography Barry Sanders: Now You See Him*, Sanders stated that Ross had nothing to do with his retirement and praised him as a head coach. [[CITE|undefined|]]

NFL career statistics

NFL records

  • Most Seasons, 1,100 or More Yards Rushing (10) tied with Walter Payton
  • Most Consecutive Seasons, 1,100 or More Yards Rushing (10)
  • Most Seasons, 1,300 or More Yards Rushing (9) tied with Walter Payton
  • Most Seasons, 1,400 or More Yards Rushing (7)
  • Most Consecutive Seasons, 1,400 or More Yards Rushing (5) tied with Emmitt Smith, 1991–1995
  • Most Seasons,1,500 or More Yards Rushing (5)
  • Most Consecutive Seasons, 1,500 or More Yards Rushing (4)
  • In 1997, he set an NFL record by rushing for at least 100 yards in 14 consecutive games and became only the third player to reach 2,000 yards in a single season.
  • During the final 14 games of the 1997 season Sanders rushed for exactly 2000 yards on 310 carries (6.5 yd./carry), a figure which bears comparison with O.J. Simpson's 14-game mark of 2003 yards on 332 carries (6.0 yd./carry).
  • Each of his 10 years from 1989 through 1998 he was first- or second-team All-Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl.
  • Over his professional football career, he rushed for at least 100 yards in 76 games, just short of Walter Payton's 77 games and Emmitt Smith's 78 games.
  • NFL record 25 games in which Sanders rushed for 150 yards or more.
  • NFL record 46 games in which Sanders had 150 yards from scrimmage or more.
  • 15 career touchdown runs of 50 yards or more, most in NFL history.
  • At the time of his retirement, Sanders' 15,269 career rushing yards placed him second behind Walter Payton's 16,726 yards.
  • His 18,190 career yards from scrimmage place him sixth on the all-time list.
  • His career average of 5.0 yards per rushing attempt (min.
  • His career rushing yards per game average of 99.8 yards is second in NFL history behind only Jim Brown's 104.3 yards per game.
  • In 1999, he was ranked number 12 on The Sporting News'
  • On January 31, 2004, he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • On August 8, 2004, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame along with Bob Brown, Carl Eller, and John Elway.
  • Sanders also holds the NFL record for the most carries for negative yardage.

Personal life

Sanders has four sons.

Sanders' son, Barry J. Sanders, played running back for Stanford University from 2012 to 2015 [[CITE|undefined|]] after a highly successful high school career: as a freshman in 2008, Barry ran for 742 yards and twelve touchdowns while helping Heritage Hall School to the 2008 Oklahoma 2A state title, [[CITE|undefined|]] [[CITE|undefined|]] and he was the only sophomore on the 2009 Tulsa World all-state team. [[CITE|undefined|]]

After football

Sanders introduced ESPN's Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions on October 10, 2011. [[CITE|undefined|]]

In April 2013, Sanders made it to the finals in the EA Sports Madden NFL 25 cover vote by beating Ron Rivera in Round One, Marcus Allen in Round Two, Ray Lewis in Round Three, Joe Montana in the quarter-finals, and Jerry Rice in the semi-finals. He then went on to beat Adrian Peterson to become the next cover athlete, [[CITE|undefined|]] the 1st player to appear on the cover of Madden NFL Football more than once (he appeared in the background of the Madden NFL 2000 cover). [[CITE|undefined|]]

See also

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