One of the greatest running backs who ever played the game, Barry Sanders walked away from the NFL in the prime of his career. The NFL Network profiles Sanders, a former Oklahoma State and Detroit Lions standout, in the next installment of its “A Football Life” series, which debuts at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Producers got Sanders, a humble superstar who generally detests the media spotlight, to open up about his football career. Combined with interviews from those who know him well, including family, friends, former teammates and coaches, the 60-minute show provides a revealing look at OSU's only Heisman Trophy winner.
Sanders' father, William Sanders, who died in June 2011, ranked his son No. 3 among NFL running backs, placing Jim Brown at the top of his list. But Sanders said he was never slighted by that ranking. “My dad was always my biggest supporter,” he said. “I don't think I'd be here without him.”
Growing up with 10 siblings in a small home in Wichita, Kan., Sanders started playing football at an early age. But his high school football coach believed he wasn't tough enough at 5-8 to play running back and used him as a cornerback. After a coaching change before his senior year, he switched to tailback and rushed for more than 1,400 yards.
Choosing between offers from OSU and Tulsa, Sanders disappointed his outspoken father by selecting OSU. His father, a huge OU fan, wanted him to go to Tulsa so he could play right away.
Playing behind Thurman Thomas for two seasons, he didn't start at running back until he was a junior, when he rushed for 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns to run away with the Heisman Trophy.
Selected No. 3 overall by the Detroit Lions, Sanders went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 10 straight seasons and excite Lions fans with his quickness and ability to reverse fields in a split second.