Barry Sanders’ 10 Most Exciting Runs in the NFL

  • 10. 35-Yard Spin Move TD Vs. Raiders

    Detroit’s 1990 season didn’t have too many highlights. But their December 10th Monday Night game against the Raiders was the stuff of legends. Two legends, in fact.

    On one side, there was Barry Sanders and on the other was Bo Jackson. Both players eclipsed the 100-yard mark, combining to rush for three touchdowns and 305 yards. While Jackson got the W, it was Sanders who won the individual duel, and this 35-yard touchdown run showed again why no one’s ever had a better spin move.

    Just ask Los Angeles defensive back Eddie Anderson about that move. The free safety led the Raiders in tackles that year and he completely whiffed here.

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  • 9. 50-Yard Comeback Run

    This run didn’t have any ankle-breaking jukes or spins or start-n-stops. But it’s super impressive to me when you look at it within the context of the game.

    Hosting rival Minnesota during the 1995 season, Sanders broke off a long 53-yard run in the second half, only to get caught from behind and fumble the ball into the end zone. Rather than sulk or complain about the lost touchdown he’d just given away — during a very close game — he literally came right back, running basically the same distance…on the same type of run play… the next time he touched the ball.

    No one was catching Sanders the second time.

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  • 8. Longest Run Of His Career

    In one of the best games of his career, Sanders erupted for 215 yards and two 80-plus-yard touchdowns in a 27-9 win over Tampa Bay in 1997. (That move he puts on John Lynch in the first run is the type of move that pops someone’s knee out.) On the year, Barry ran for 2,053 yards, which is mind-boggling when you think of it by itself and even more incredible when you look back at the box scores and realize he had just 53 combined yards after two games.

    From Week 3 on, Sanders rushed for 100 yards in every single game.

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  • 7. Short TD Run Vs. Buffalo

    During the 1991 season, Sanders rushed for a career-high 16 touchdowns. It was no surprise that Detroit had its best season of the Super Bowl era either, advancing all the way to the NFC Championship before losing to Washington.

    On a blistery Sunday during the final week of the regular season, the Lions went into Buffalo and took the Bills out in overtime, scoring all 17 of their points in the fourth quarter and OT. It was the only time ALL YEAR that Buffalo would lose at home.

    Sanders finished with 108 yards in the tough conditions, and completed the most impressive one-yard run I’ve seen in a long time. The second he took the handoff from quarterback Erik Kramer, Sanders already knew what he needed to do. His immediate spin move left a defender face-first on the ground. That’s embarrassing.

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  • 6. 80-Yard Run With One Shoe

    He did what?! Sanders pulled this off against Tampa Bay, running so quick a defender yanked off one of his shoes in an attempt to bring him down. Sanders not only stayed up but he ran basically 80 yards with just one shoe on, finally being brought down inside the Bucs’ 10-yard line.

    While the actual run was relatively tame, the fact that he did it all with only one shoe might make this one the best run I’ve ever seen.

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  • 5. TD Run Vs. Colts

    By this point, quarterback Rodney Peete had played with Sanders for two and a half years. He came in with Sanders as a rookie. The two of them knew each other inside and out. So once Peete saw Sanders pull off a spin move — almost identical to another move on this list — and then turn a defender’s ankles immediately after, he knew it was on. Even with Sanders three or four yards into the backfield, the quarterback was already signaling for a touchdown.

    This was one of two TDs on the day for Barry, as he went for 179 yards.

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  • 4. Vs. The Bears

    Routinely considered one of his best runs, Barry Sanders went 43 yards on this one during the 1992 season, breaking a tackle from seemingly everyone in Chicago. That included Hall of Famer Mike Singletary.

    Sanders finished this game with 109 yards, and one legendary run. How can you describe a spin-around, 360-degree hurdle escape move? You can’t.

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  • 3. Longest Catch Of His Career Vs. Tampa

    This isn’t technically a “running” play, but it is a “run” so I’m counting it. It’s just too good not to.

    In a seven-point loss to the Bucs during the 1997 season, on a day when Sanders had only 20 yards rushing, he unleashed his special stuff on a short pass from quarterback Scott Mitchell. First, he had Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks jumping out of his shoes. Then defensive back Tyrone Legette looked like a newborn child trying to catch Sanders’ feet.

    The crowning moment came toward the end of the run when free safety Melvin Johnson whiffed on what should’ve been an easy tackle. If this move doesn’t remind you of the classic Reggie Bush run at USC against Fresno State, when he stopped on a dime on the sidelines and changed course to the other side of the field, then I don’t know what to tell you. Considering this one happened in the NFL on a 66-yard passing play, and I have to say Barry Sanders’ romp was more impressive.

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  • 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