During his first two seasons at Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders only put up average marks, but his 1988 season wont be forgotten anytime soon.
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 contests. 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.
In the 1989 NFL Draft, Sanders was taken by the Detroit Lions with the 3rd overall pick. The Lions bet the farm and landed a stud for years to come. The above college records were only the beginning of a great career.
In his rookie season, which was delayed by a holdout, Sanders rushed 1,470 yards on 280 carries, a 5.3 average and 14 touchdowns. He was well on his way to greatness posting 15,269 yards on 3,062 carries, 5.0 career average, and 99 rushing touchdowns. He also showed his hand at being a class act, only 1,457 yards short of breaking Walter Payton's career record, later to be passed by Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders bowed out of the game on his own terms.
Unfortunately, Barry Sanders enjoyed a HOF career without tasting the dream every football player plays to taste -- a Super Bowl appearance. Barry 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 division title; the 1991 team won 12 regular season games (a franchise record). None of these clubs were good enough to reach the Super Bowl.
Unlike the athletes of today, who will jump ship to win the title, Barry remained loyal to the Lions organization and never played for another team during his entire NFL career. But most importantly, he made an impact on the city of Detroit that will never forget his name nor his success on the field.
Barry Sanders proved you don't need an NFL Championship to be heralded as one of the greatest to ever play the game,