Gold Jacket Spotlight: Barry Sanders played with style of his own

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 3/11/2024
Wichita North High School football coach Dale Burkholder found an appreciation for BARRY SANDERS' running ability that his predecessor lacked.

“I had heard a comment from previous coaches that he wouldn’t ‘stick it up in there,’ ” Burkholder commented in an NFL Films “A Football Life” episode. “That didn’t bother me, and his running style was just fine with me. Nobody could tackle him.”

Burkholder’s perception was affirmed as Barry averaged 10 yards per carry his senior season at North.

The running back with the elusive style weaves his way into the Gold Jacket Spotlight this week.

Electing to attend Oklahoma State University against the wishes of his father, William, who preferred The University of Tulsa as they offered the opportunity to “start” immediately, Barry successfully accepted his role on special teams while backing up upperclassman and future Pro Football Hall of Famer THURMAN THOMAS.

In 1987, Barry led the nation in kick return average yardage and returns for touchdowns, and the following season he produced one of the greatest collegiate single-season performances.

During the 1988 campaign, in which Barry became the starting tailback, he amassed 2,628 yards rushing, scored 39 touchdowns and set 34 NCAA records in winning the Heisman Trophy and the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards. 

Barry chose to depart Oklahoma State after his junior season, and the Detroit Lions selected him in the opening round (third overall pick) of the 1989 NFL Draft.

Jim Brandstatter, Lions radio announcer, observed: “The Lions needed a franchise player. They needed a brand, and Barry had that flash. He had that ability to light a place up.”

Barry would “light a place up” throughout his 10-season NFL career as he rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons, including the 1997 season in which he became the third rusher in NFL history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark.

Again, it was Barry’s style of running that offered observers a remarkable sight each week.

“You can’t ask a person in Detroit, ‘What’s your favorite run of Barry’s’?’” former Detroit Piston and NBA Hall of Famer Joe Dumars said in “A Football Life.” “Because that would say there were just a handful, and you can remember one. This guy did something special every Sunday.”

Columnist Mike O’Hara added, “Barry could run behind The Rockettes and gain 2,000 yards. … It didn’t matter who blocked for him. He’d find a way because he had his own running style.”

Barry’s post-touchdown style also caused many to take note. He simply handed the ball to an official each time he crossed the goal line.

“Whenever Barry scored, he always knew where the referee was,” observed then-Lions coach Wayne Fontes.

“If you’re making an amazing run, scoring a touchdown for 80 yards (and) you make eight people miss you on one play, do you really need to spike the ball?” teammate Kevin Glover said.

Added Brandstatter, “What a great change of pace to see one of the greatest players in the game go to the end zone and act like he’s been there before. (Now speaking as Sanders) “That’s part of the job, this is what I do. Thank you very much. I’m going to turn around and humbly run back to the sideline.” 

Barry’s sister Lynn Sanders explained, “If you know anything about his character, the humility he has, you don’t do things to get recognized for doing something great. You do it because you really enjoy it and live it and you like it. But you don’t have to make such a big deal out of it.”

Legendary sports commentator Dick Enberg once said, “Sanders is as modest a superstar as I have ever met in all of sport.”

And that takes a certain style.