Twelve years ago this month, Barry Sanders retired from the National Football League, and today – July 16, 2011 – he celebrated his 43rd birthday.
The craziest part is that most football players at that age would have retired just a few short years ago, yet Sanders shocked the world and hung up his cleats early – and way too early in the opinion of most fans of the game.
And that’s simply because Barry Sanders was just way too damn fun to watch – a lethal mixture of speed, elusiveness, vision and talent – a quiet force that left opposing coaches scratching their heads and opposing players looking foolish on the football field.
But just how good was Barry Sanders?
Not only did he set 34 NCAA records and win the Heisman Trophy while playing college football at Oklahoma State, Sanders also currently sits third among the NFL’s all-time career rushing leaders (with 15,269 yards). That feat was accomplished even when retiring in his early 30’s. Imagine what he could have accomplished had he stuck around for a few more seasons.
The biggest highlight of Barry’s NFL career was likely his 1997 season, where he posted one of the few 2,000 rushing seasons in the history of the game, including 100-yard games during the final 14 games of that regular season.
Recently, a debate arose at ProFootballTalk.com where Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith – the NFL’s all-time leading rusher – were compared. The discussion sparked from two recent radio interviews with Sanders, where the former Detroit Lions RB was asked if he was better than Smith during his time in the 1990’s.
No surprise, Sanders remained humble with the question, but that doesn’t mean that I have to. While Emmitt Smith was an incredible back that had an amazing career, it’s clear to me that Sanders far surpassed him, and would have done so in the record books, too – if he had stuck around for a few more seasons.
The biggest point to drive that opinion home is clearly the fact that Smith had a juggernaut Dallas Cowboys offensive line, plus so many other offensive weapons to help push him to the kind of stat lines that he filled. On the other end, there were times where Sanders appeared to be running for his life in the Detroit backfield, finding a hole that most backs couldn’t, taking a sure loss and turning it into a positive gain, or in most cases, a first down – or even a touchdown.
That leaves the same question in your court, who do you think was the best running back over the last two decades: Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, or someone else?
Who is the BEST NFL Running Back Over the Last Two Decades?
- Barry Sanders (71%, 12 Votes)
- Emmitt Smith (24%, 4 Votes)
- Other (6%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 17
Either way your vote goes, it’s clear that the 5’ 8” Sanders was a unique talent packed into a smaller package, and a player that we’ll likely never see again in our lifetime.
Fans of the game may miss football now, but they’ve missed Barry Sanders for a dozen years.
Happy Birthday, Barry – hope retirement is treating you well.
Sincerely, KP and The Wife Hates Sports