BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY B Barry Sanders
For Sanders' son, see Barry J. Sanders. For the historian and author, see Barry Sanders (professor).
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Sanders in 2010
Position: Running back
Date of birth: July 16, 1968 (age 48)
Place of birth: Wichita, Kansas
Height: 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
High school: Wichita (KS) North
College: Oklahoma State
NFL Draft: 1989 / Round: 1 / Pick: 3
Detroit Lions (1989–1998)
Career highlights and awards
10× Pro Bowl (1989–1998)
6× First-team All-Pro (1989–1991, 1994, 1995, 1997)
4× Second-team All-Pro (1992, 1993, 1996, 1998)
Co-NFL Most Valuable Player (1997)
2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997)
2× Bert Bell Award (1991, 1997)
4× NFL rushing yards leader (1990, 1994, 1996, 1997)
NFL rushing touchdowns leader (1991)
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1989)
NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
Detroit Lions No. 20 retired
Heisman Trophy (1988)
Maxwell Award (1988)
Walter Camp Award (1988)
Unanimous All-American (1988)
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards: 15,269
Rushing touchdowns: 99
Player stats at NFL.com
Pro Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame
Barry Sanders (born July 16, 1968) is a former American football running back who spent his entire professional career with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League. A member of both the college and professional football halls of fame, he was ranked by NFL Top 10 as the most elusive runner in NFL history, and also topped their list of greatest players never to reach the Super Bowl. Averaging over 1,500 rushing yards per season, Sanders left the game 1,457 yards short of breaking the NFL all-time rushing record at the time.
1 Early years
2 College career
2.1 College statistics
3 Professional career
4 NFL career statistics
6 Personal life
7 After football
10 External links
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, University of Tulsa, and Oklahoma State University-Stillwater.
See also: 1987 Oklahoma State Cowboys football team and 1988 Oklahoma State Cowboys football team
Enrolling at Oklahoma State University, Sanders played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys from 1986 to 1988, and wore the #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 has been called the greatest individual season 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.
See also: List of NCAA football records § Rushing
Season Team GP Att Yds Avg Yds/G TD Rec Yds Long TD
1986 OSU 74 325 4.4 2 0 0 0 0
1987* OSU 111 622 5.6 8 4 59 1
1988* OSU 12 373 2,850 7.6 237.5 42* 19 106 2
Total 558 3,797 5.9 52* 23 165 3
*Includes bowl game. The NCAA does not include bowl games in official statistics for seasons prior to 2002.
Source: Barry Sanders at Sports Reference
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. Further, Sanders' had unusual explosiveness, demonstrated by his ability to be competitive in the 1991 Footlocker slam dunk contest despite his short stature.
In, 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 also totaled 283 receiving yards, which gave him a combined 2,166 yards from scrimmage for the season. 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, 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 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. 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[by whom?] 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 quitting pro football. His retirement was made public by faxing a letter to the Wichita Eagle, his hometown newspaper.
He left football healthy, having gained 15,269 rushing yards, 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. Only Payton and Emmitt Smith have rushed for more yards than Sanders.
Sanders' retirement came somewhat unexpectedly and was a matter of controversy. Two years earlier, Sanders had renewed his contract with the Lions for 0.3 cents 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 million (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 David Ware lobbied the team to trade his client. However, it had been a long-standing practice for the Lions to not accommodate players' requests for trades, and other teams were reluctant to discuss Sanders while he was still under contract.
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.
NFL career statistics
Led the league
NFL MVP & Offensive Player of the Year
NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Bold Career high
Season Rushing Receiving Fumbles
Year Team G Att Yards Avg Lng TD FD Rec Yards Avg Lng TD FD Fum Lost
1989 DET 15 280 1,470 5.3 34 14 0 24 282 11.8 46 0 0 10 0
1990 DET 16 255 1,304 5.1 45 13 0 36 480 13.3 47 3 0 4 2
1991 DET 15 342 1,548 4.5 69 16 91 41 307 7.5 34 1 18 5 1
1992 DET 16 312 1,352 4.3 55 9 68 29 225 7.8 48 1 7 6 2
1993 DET 11 243 1,115 4.6 42 3 46 36 205 5.7 17 0 6 4 3
1994 DET 16 331 1,883 5.7 85 7 72 44 283 6.4 22 1 16 0 0
1995 DET 16 314 1,500 4.8 75 11 70 48 398 8.3 40 1 18 4 2
1996 DET 16 307 1,553 5.1 54 11 79 24 147 6.1 28 0 5 4 2
1997 DET 16 335 2,053 6.1 82 11 85 33 305 9.2 66 3 11 4 2
1998 DET 16 343 1,491 4.3 73 4 63 37 289 7.8 44 0 10 3 1
Career 153 3,062 15,269 5.0 85 99 574 352 2,921 8.3 66 10 91 44 15
See also: List of NCAA football records § Rushing
He set 34 NCAA records.
He holds the national college single-season rushing record with 2,628 rushing yards in 1988.
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. He shared the NFL MVP award with Brett Favre.
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. Jim Brown is second with 22 games.
NFL record 46 games in which Sanders had 150 yards from scrimmage or more. Walter Payton is second with 45.
15 career touchdown runs of 50 yards or more, most in NFL history. Jim Brown is second with 12.
At the time of his retirement, Sanders' 15,269 career rushing yards placed him second behind Walter Payton's 16,726 yards. At Sanders' then-current yearly yardage pace, he would have eclipsed Payton within one or two years. Payton died from liver cancer at age 45 just months after Sanders' sudden retirement.
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. 1500 att) is second all-time for running backs. Jim Brown is first with a 5.2 career average.
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' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, making him the highest-ranking Lions player and the third highest ranked running back, behind Jim Brown and Walter Payton.
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. According to the NFL, Sanders is the all-time leader in rushing yards lost by a running back with 1,114.
Sanders has four sons; his now ex-wife, Lauren Campbell Sanders, is the mother of the three younger sons. Lauren Sanders was a news anchor for WDIV in Detroit. With his ex-wife, he has three sons: Nigel, Nicholas, and Noah. In February 2012, Sanders filed for divorce from his wife after 12 years of marriage.
Sanders' son, Barry J. Sanders, played running back for Stanford University from 2012 to 2015 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. He currently is playing his post-graduate season at Sanders' alma mater, Oklahoma State, after transferring from Stanford.
Sanders introduced ESPN's Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions on October 10, 2011.
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).