Wednesday, December 31, 2008

110 Percent Hall of Fame 2008: Barry Sanders

As a Cowboys fan, I always sided with Emmitt Smith in the "Who's the greatest running back?" debate. And Emmitt provided plenty of support for my case: Super Bowl rings, MVPs, rushing titles, TD records: Emmitt had them all.

But Barry was no slouch, either. He was a Pro Bowler in each of his ten NFL seasons, and was first team All Pro six times. When he retired at thirty, he declined the opportunity to break the career rushing record that season. Emmitt set the record four years later, but Barry could have shattered it with only a few more seasons in his prime. Look at that picture again--look at those hips, that ankle. Bodies are simply not supposed to move that way. Most pictures of Barry look like bad Photoshop jobs--if it wasn't Sanders, we wouldn't believe it was real.

And let's not forget that while the NFL instituted the "Emmitt rule" to keep players from taking off their helmets on the field, Sanders quietly handed the ball to the ref after yet another score--classy.

Bottom line: Emmitt won because he had help, starting with an awesome offensive line and fellow stars at quarterback and wide receiver, not to mention a killer defense. Barry had none of these things. Any success the Lions had, including the win over Emmitt and the Cowboys in the 1991 playoffs, was due almost entirely to Barry.

In fact, that's what led to Barry's early retirement. Ten years of not getting a commitment to win from the Lions was enough--Barry walked away from it all. I was so convinced he would come back during the season, either with the Lions or another team, that I used a late round pick in my fantasy draft on him. Unfortunately for me and other NFL fans, I was wrong on that pick--Sanders never even looked back.

With Emmitt joining Sanders in retirement in 2004, the distance of time has finally allowed me to make a confession. Taking nothing away from Emmitt Smith: Barry was better.

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