Barry Sanders’ special year
ESPN.com has tried to put Tom Brady’s spectacular season in perspective. The Patriots quarterback threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes this season. How epic of a year is that? ESPN.com ranked the 25 greatest individual single-seasons in sports history.
Barry Sanders’ 1988 season at Oklahoma State ranked No. 6. In 12 games that year, Sanders rushed for 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns. Let those numbers sink in. That’s 237.5 yards and 3.5 touchdowns a game. Sanders scored at least two touchdowns in every game and scored three or more 10 times.
Amazing. Simply amazing. In ESPN.com’s top 25, only one other college football season is listed — USC’s Marcus Allen in 1981 ranks 25th. Allen’s season was monumental, unless you compare it to Sanders’. Allen rushed for 2,427 yards in 12 games and carried an NCAA record 435 times, counting his Fiesta Bowl results. Allen had an NCAA-record eight 200-yard games. A monster, monster year. But 19 slots away from Sanders’.
The only argument about Sanders’ season is how high on this list it should go, and I say it could go even higher. Here is the list, with my comments:
25. Allen 1981: Just like now, USC faced all comers. USC’s non-conference schedule that year included Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
24. Ted Williams 1941: The last .400 season (.406), Williams missed the Triple Crown by five RBIs. Joe DiMaggio won the RBI title and the MVP, thanks to that 56-game hitting streak, which come to think of it is quite the season itself. DiMaggio didn’t make this list, which might be an oversight.
23. LaDainian Tomlinson 2006: 31 total touchdowns and 28 rushing TDs set NFL records. I have no problem with this ranking. Think about that — 28 rushing TDs in a 16-game schedule. That’s almost two per game, in a league where it’s a mighty feat to rush for a touchdown.
22. Michael Jordan 1987-88: A bogus ranking. Jordan averaged 35.0 points a game and was named defensive player of the year, averaging 3.2 steals per game. But steals always has been an overrated stat. This was a great year, no doubt, but not one of the best 25 in sports history.
21. Martina Navratilova 1984: Martina’s 74-match win streak included 13 straight tournament titles and three majors. She went 78-2. And she teamed with Pam Shriver to win all four majors doubles. But I have a problem with any tennis player on this list. The sport never has been deep enough to provide great competition.
20. Mario Lemieux 1992-93: Mario scored goals in the Penguins’ first 12 games and was on pace to break Wayne Gretzky’s single-season scoring record. But on Jan. 12, Lemieux announced he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease; he missed two months. He returned to the ice March 2 and scored a goal and an assist in his first game, and won the scoring title anyway. A great year, a heartwarming year, but one of the 25 best ever? Doubtful.
19. Pedro Martinez 1999: I love this season — 23-4 record, 2.07 ERA in a league that averaged 4.86, 313 strikeouts in 213.3 innings. Then a great playoff, too. I love seasons that counter trends. Great pitchers in a hitter’s era. Great runners in a passing era. Pedro’s season is too low.
18. Richard Petty 1967: Won 27 of 49 races, including 10 straight. This season earned him the nickname, The King. But I don’t know enough about NASCAR history to rate this season. Sure sounds like the competition wasn’t great.
17. Lew Alcindor 1966-67: His sophomore season at UCLA, averaged 29.0 points a game and shot 66.7 percent from the field. In the days before network coverage of the NCAA Tournament, much less ESPN, the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a mythical figure. If he came along today he would stop the sports world dead cold. Probably a season ranked too low.
16. Bobby Jones 1930: Invented the Grand Slam, not by name but by accomplishment, winning the U.S. and British opens and amateurs. Then he retired. Give him a gold star for going out on top, but not to be taken seriously as an epic season. Considering competition, Phil Mickelson has had 10 seasons better.
15. O.J. Simpson 1973: Rushed for 2,003 yards in 14 games, an average of 143.1 yards a game, a feat that hasn’t been approached and might not be unless Adrian Peterson gets even better than he already is. O.J. rushed for 219 and 200 yards his final two games; he beat runnerup John Brockington for the rushing title by 859 yards. Chew on that for awhile. Clearly an underrated season. Should rank ahead of all other NFL seasons.
14. Steffi Graf 1988: Big-time year, winning all four majors as well as Olympic gold. She also ended Martina Navratilova’s run of six straight Wimbledon titles. But again, tennis is not a deep sport. This is too high.
13. Oscar Robertson, 1961-62: Before the invention of the term “triple-double,” the Big O achieved it — for a season, averaging 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds. But 1962 was an offensively explosive year, as you will see. I love Oscar Robertson. I’m not convinced Michael Jordan was better than the Big O. But this season is ranked too high.
12. Dan Marino, 1984: In his second NFL season, Marino threw for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns, both league records. He also took the Dolphins to the Super Bowl. Probably ranked about right.
11. Jerry Rice, 1987: Caught a record 22 touchdowns, in only 12 games, due to the players’ strike. Give Rice 16 games, and that equates to 29 TD catches. Randy Moss finally broke Rice’s record this season, with 23. But you can’t cut Rice too much slack for the strike. That was a man-made absence.
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