Barry Sanders was drafted as the third overall pick in the 1989 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He played college football at Oklahoma State University and won the Heisman Trophy his junior year. During his time in Detroit, he rushed for 15, 269 yards with an average yard-per-carry of 5.0 and 109 touchdowns. Sanders led the Lions to two division titles in 1991 and 1993. In 1991, the Lions won their first playoff game since 1957 when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, 38-6. The Lions then went on to lose to the Washington Redskins the next week in the NFC Conference Championships 41-10.
Sanders' most impressive season was in 1997 when he entered the 2,000 yard rushing club with 2,053 yards for the season. 1998 was a decidedly less impressive season, as Sanders only had 1,491 yards, which ended his four-year streak of rushing for more than 1,500 yards in a season. 1998 would be Sanders' last season in the NFL.
Barry Sanders announced his sudden retirement via a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Wichita Eagle in 1999. Sander was quiet about his abrupt career end, but later confessed that he was frustrated with the culture of losing in Detroit, which took away his competitive drive. During his time, the Lions went 1-7 in the playoffs, never reaching the Super Bowl. The Lions also had five sub-.500 seasons during Sanders' tenure. The Lions had trouble picking a franchise QB during this time, which contributed to the Lions' struggles. Sanders retired 1,456 yards short of Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, which would later be broken by Emmitt Smith.
At 5 foot 8 inches, Sanders is one of the shortest NFL players ever. On the field, he was known for his low-key demeanor, eschewing elaborate touchdown celebrations and would often just hand the ball to the official and make his way to the bench, where he would sometimes hand out Gatorade cups to teammates. As a running back, he was as elusive as they come. His size, speed, and fancy footwork in the open field has led many to call Sanders the greatest running back of all time, and one of the NFL's all-time great highlight reel machines.
Awards and Highlights
- Pro Bowl selection (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
- All-Pro (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
- AP NFL MVP (1997) (shared with Brett Favre)
- Rated #1 Most Elusive Running Back of All Time by NFL.com
- Rated #1 Best Player to Never Reach the Super Bowl by NFL.com
- Rated #17 NFL Player of all-time by NFL.com
- NFL Rushing champion (1990, 1994, 1996,1997)
- NFL Alumni Running Back of the Year (1997)
- NEA NFL MVP (1997)
- PFWA NFL MVP (1997)
- AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997)
- Bert Bell Award (1991, 1997)
- NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1989)
- Single Season 2,000 Rushing Yards Club
- 10,000 Rushing Yards Club
- NFL 1990's All-Decade Team
- Heisman Trophy (1988)
- Consensus All-American (1988)
- #20 retired by the Detroit Lions
- Third-leading rusher in NFL history
- Pro football hall of fame.
- College football hall of fame.
- Most consecutive 100-yard games, 14
- 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 seasons, 1,500 or more rushing yards, 4
- Most games with 150 or more rushing yards, 25
- Most games with 150 or more all-purpose yards, 46
- Most touchdown runs of 50 yards or more, 15
- Second average rushing yards per game, 99.8