Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Sanders, Barry

Former Detroit Lion Barry Sanders was arguably the most exciting running back in the National Football League during his career. Perhaps more remarkable was that, in a game full of braggadocio and ego, he was invariably quiet and humble.  

Hailing from Wichita, Kansas, Sanders was born on July 16th, 1968. He won the 1988 Heisman Trophy in his junior year at Oklahoma State University. Lions head coach Wayne Fontes chose him with the third pick in the first round of the 1989 NFL draft. Listed at just 5-foot-8, the diminutive tailback quickly took the league by storm.  

Throughout his incredible pro football career, Sanders thwarted his opponents play after play, spinning, juking, and sliding through the hands of would-be tacklers for 10 incredible seasons, all with the Detroit Lions. On the Pontiac Silverdome’s ancient artificial turf, Sanders was incomparable, breaking the mold of the NFL running back and numerous records in the process. Sanders rushed for more than 1,000 yards in every season with the Lions, the first NFL running back ever to do so. 

Sanders made the Pro Bowl every season in his 10-year career, and in 1997, he rushed for over 2,000 yards, just the third man to accomplish that feat in NFL history. That year, he shared the League’s MVP Award with Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. 

When he retired after the 1998 season, Sanders had amassed 15,269 yards rushing, second all-time to Chicago’s Walter Payton. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Former Lions receiver Herman Moore called him “the best running back in the history of the game.” Former NFL linebacker Chris Spielman called him “the greatest of all time.” Sanders retired from his professional playing career shortly before the 1999 season.