He’s listed third on the NFL’s list of career rushing leaders but anyone who ever watched Detroit Lions’ running back Barry Sanders play will tell you he is the greatest running back in the history of the game.
Nobody ran it like Barry Sanders. Most of the best running backs to have played the game could squeeze another three to four yards out of a busted play but Sanders made a career of producing long runs when there was absolutely no openings for him to run through.
But then again Sanders never really had the luxury of good blockers opening holes for him the way most of the league’s top rushing leaders did. The two running backs ahead of Sanders on the career rushing leaders list even had the luxury of a fullback opening holes for them.
Emmitt Smith who is the league’s all-time rushing leader ran behind a massive offensive line and had fullback Daryl Johnston opening holes for him. Smith ran for a total of 18,355 yards while playing 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and two seasons as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
Walter Payton played 13 years for the Chicago Bears and is currently number two on the all-time rushing list. Payton had two fullbacks that blocked for him during his career; Roland Harper who came into the league the same year as Payton and Matt Suhey who took over the fulltime blocking duties after Harper retired.
Sanders only spent 10 years in the league and didn’t have a fullback during the first eight. But when Sanders did finally get to work with a fullback he did something neither of the two guys ahead of him was able to do; he ran for over 2,000 yards in a single season.
Sanders final season wouldn’t go so well though. The Lions underwent growing pains as they transitioned from quarterback Scott Mitchell to rookie quarterback Charlie Batch. After going 5-11 that season, Sanders decided to call it quits.
Sanders was so talented. He was only 5’8” and around 205 pounds but he was super fast and changed direction on a dime. You have to watch the video of Sanders’ runs below. The way he moved defied logic at times.
Watch highlights of Barry Sanders remarkable runs here:
Sanders’ runs were so entertaining they would have you yearning for more so it’s only fitting that the way he left the game also left fans wanting more. Sanders would leave the game abruptly and would admit years later that the Lions’ culture of losing robbed him of his competitive spirit.
Sanders was still in the prime of his career when he walked away from the game which led many to believe that he could have easily broken the rushing record which was still owned by Walter Payton at the time of Sanders’ retirement.
Sanders averaged 1,527 yards-per-season during his career and was only 1,457 yards shy of Payton’s mark when he retired. He averaged 240 yards more per season than Payton did and 303 more yards per game than Smith.
A couple more years in the league and his name would be on the top of the list. He may not have even needed a few more years if he had better blocking during the ten years he did play in the league.
But alas we will never know. Sanders never got to play in a Super Bowl and quit before he could break Payton’s rushing record but he was and is still the most entertaining running back that has ever played the game. And just like any good entertainer he still leaves us wanting more.
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Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.
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