2. Vs. Cowboys - 1991 Playoffs
How ridiculous is this run? Pause the video at 14 seconds. It’s a little blurry but unless my eyes are deceiving me, there are seven Dallas defenders all on the ground. Some by way of blocks, yes, but mostly because of Sanders’ supreme agility and balance.
To top it off, Barry runs straight past a lineman who doesn’t even notice he’s still up, then puts the safety into a 360 spin. That’s too good.
Amazingly, this 47-yard run accounted for most of Sanders’ tally on the day (69 yards). Detroit didn’t need much else — they beatdown the Cowboys, 38-6. Sadly, this is the only Detroit playoff win in the Super Bowl era.
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1. Long TD Run Vs. Patriots - 1994
Sanders was known for turning three-yard losses into four-yard gains. Those runs were probably more valuable than anything else because, with the way the Lions struggled to surround him with talent, he had to do it all the time. But nothing was more exciting than seeing him turn a 15-yard run into a 39-yard touchdown.
On this play, Sanders got into the secondary and turned New England strong safety Harlon Barnett around a couple of different times. Sanders rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns in this game and yet Detroit still lost.
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Barry Sanders doesn’t hold the records, but we all know who the greatest running back of all time is. When he abruptly retired in the summer of 1999, after just turning 31 years old and within striking distance — 1,457 yards to be exact — of Walter Payton‘s all-time rushing record, there wasn’t a football fan in the country who didn’t feel they were getting cheated. Sanders was an icon, more elusive than an animal, the NFL’s preeminent ankle-breaker.
I had an obsession with the Detroit Lions’ running back. Growing up, I started paying attention to football around 1993. Seven-year-old me got to watch Sanders chew up defenses over the next few years, and it was unlike anything I’d ever see again. He ran for at least 1,500 yards in four straight years, including 1,883 in 1994 and 2,053 three years later.
Today is Sanders’ 46th birthday and he should be celebrating it by looking at all of his records. Alas, he left the game early, claiming he was burnt out and sick of losing with the Lions. We can’t really fault him for that. All we can do is reminisce on the cat who was so shifty they couldn’t even replicate him in video games.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney