|Born:||July 16, 1968|
Wichita, Kansas, U.S.
|Height:||5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)|
|Weight:||203 lb (92 kg)|
|High school:||Wichita North (Wichita)|
|NFL Draft:||1989 / Round: 1 / Pick: 3|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Player stats at NFL.com · PFR|
Barry Sanders (born July 16, 1968) is a former American football running back who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions. 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, and was also voted the greatest short player of all time as well as being placed #1 on the list of the greatest players never to play in a Super Bowl. He is regarded as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, and is often regarded as the greatest running back of the modern era.
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, 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. Sanders was first inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. He then was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and in that same year inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
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 (He was co-MVP with Green Bay Quarterback Brett Favre). Still seemingly in his prime, Sanders unexpectedly retired from football after the 1998 season, 1,457 yards short of breaking the then 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. A year later Sanders was also inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame along with fellow pro and college football hall of famer Thurman Thomas.
In 2019, Sanders was included in the National Football League 100th Anniversary All-Time Team as one of the greatest all-time running backs alongside fellow Hall of Fame running backs such as Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Emmitt Smith, and many others.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, Sanders attended Wichita North High School. 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, Iowa State University, University of Tulsa, and Oklahoma State University-Stillwater.
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, including four on special teams returns. 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, 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. 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. He chose to leave Oklahoma State before his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
|*Includes bowl game. The NCAA does not include bowl games in official statistics for seasons prior to 2002.|
|Source: Barry Sanders at Sports Reference|
|5 ft 7+5⁄8 in
|All values from Pro Day|
The Detroit Lions selected Sanders with the 3rd overall pick in the 1989 Draft, 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.
Though there were concerns about his size, it turned out these concerns were unfounded. Sanders was far too quick for defenders to hit solidly on a consistent basis, and too strong to bring down with arm tackles. Though short at 5'8", his playing weight was 203 lb (91 kg) - the same as Walter Payton, and only slightly under the NFL average for a running back. Furthermore, Sanders had unusual explosiveness, demonstrated by his ability to be competitive in the 1991 Footlocker slam dunk contest despite his short stature.
In 1989, Sanders missed his rookie year training camp due to a contract dispute. He ran for eighteen yards his first carry during the regular season, and scored a touchdown on his fourth. He finished the season second in the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns after declining to go back into the regular-season finale just 10 yards shy of the rushing title (later won by Christian Okoye), and won the Rookie of the Year Award.
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). He was a member of the 1991 and 1993 squads that won the NFC Central division title; the 1991 team won 12 regular-season games (a franchise record).
In 1994, Sanders rushed for 1,883 yards, on a 5.7 yards per carry average. He was also known as one of the most electrifying runners of all time. He also totaled 283 receiving yards, which gave him a combined 2,166 yards from scrimmage for the season. In Week 11, a 14-9 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he broke the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single game without scoring a touchdown with 237. He was named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year. In 1995, Sanders posted 1,500 yards rushing with 398 receiving yards, beating his rushing total alone of the '94 season. In 1996, Sanders rushed for 1,553 yards with a career-low 147 receiving yards.
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. The closest they came was in the 1991 season. Aided by Sanders' 1,855 combined rushing/receiving yards and 17 touchdowns during the season, they had 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 ten of his NFL seasons. Sanders was named first-team All-Pro six times from 1989-1991 and 1993, 1994 and 1997. He was also named second-team All-Pro four times in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1998. Sanders was also named All-NFC from 1989-92 and 1994-97. Sanders was named Offensive Player of the Year in '94 and '97, NFL MVP in '97, and was named to the 1990s NFL All-Decade team.
In contrast to many of the star players of his era, Sanders was also noted for his on-field humility. Despite his flashy playing style, Sanders was rarely seen celebrating after the whistle was blown. Instead, he handed the ball to a referee or congratulated his teammates.
On July 27, 1999, Sanders announced he was retiring from pro football. His retirement was made public by faxing a letter to the Wichita Eagle, his hometown newspaper. In the letter, Sanders wrote:
"Shortly after the end of last season, I felt that I probably would not return for the 1999-2000 season. I also felt that I should take as much time as possible to sort through my feelings and make sure that my feelings were back with conviction. Today, I officially declare my departure from the NFL."
He left football healthy, having gained 15,269 rushing yards (the highest total rushing yards ever by any NFL player in a 10-year span), 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 touchdowns (99 rushing and 10 receiving). He retired within striking distance of Walter Payton's career rushing mark of 16,726 yards.
Sanders' retirement came somewhat unexpectedly and was a matter of controversy. Two years earlier, Sanders had renewed his contract with the Lions for $34.56 million over six years with an $11 million signing bonus. The Lions demanded that he return $5.5 million of the bonus. Sanders refused, and the Lions sued. On February 15, 2000, an arbitrator ruled that Sanders had to immediately repay $1,833,333.33 (a sixth of the bonus), with the remaining bonus to be repaid over each of the three years Sanders had left on the contract provided he stayed retired. Before the ruling, Sanders offered to pay back the entire $5.5 million in return for his release from the team. The Lions refused, stating they would welcome Sanders back to the team; otherwise, they would honor his announced retirement. Sanders' agent Lamont Smith lobbied the team to trade his client.
It was thought by some that Lions' head coach Bobby Ross himself may have actually been the reason for Sanders' early retirement, but in his autobiography Barry Sanders: Now You See Him, Sanders praised Ross as a head coach who had nothing directly to do with his retirement. It was more his frustration with the management and direction of the Lions, and the resulting lack of success that likely contributed to the retirement, as Sanders revealed in his autobiography, "My retirement letter didn't even hint at my frustration, because I didn't want to take shots at people as I left....Management had let quality players slip away. We'd been losing for years. Now we were right back where we were when I arrived." He also wrote, "A goal that I still hadn't realized was playing in the Super Bowl, and all of the statistical achievements didn't put the team any closer to playing in the big game."
Sanders has since patched things up with the Lions and appeared, in an unofficial capacity, at Lions events. In 2017, he rejoined the Lions in a paid role as the team's ambassador.
Sanders has four sons. The youngest three are from his marriage to Lauren Campbell. Sanders' oldest son, Barry J. Sanders, played running back for Stanford University from 2012 to 2015, and at Oklahoma State University in 2016, 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, and he was the only sophomore on the 2009 Tulsa World all-state team.
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, 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).
When the truth is -- I have no middle name. Thus making my son, Barry James Sanders, not a Barry "junior".
The only serious question when composing this list was 'Who's No. 2?'