Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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Unpredictable on the field and off, OSU's Barry Sanders retired from the Detroit Lions in 1999 and left the NFL as one of the greatest running backs of all time. Born in Wichita, Kansas, on July 16, 1968, to William and Shirley Sanders, the young Sanders graduated from Northwest Wichita High School. He excelled at all sports but focused on football, although some felt that his five-foot, eight-inch stature would hinder his performance. Enrolling at Oklahoma State University in 1986, he was at first overshadowed by Thurman Thomas, but soon he rose to prominence on the team. In 1987 he led the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) with an average of 31.3 yards per kickoff return. That year he was selected for The Sporting News College All-America Team. In 1988 he set twenty-four NCAA season records, scored thirty-nine touchdowns, led the nation in scoring, and captured the Heisman Trophy. When he ended his collegiate career in his junior year at OSU, where he was a business administration major, he had rolled up 3,979 yards rushing, scored a total of fifty-six touchdowns, and set thirteen NCAA season records.

Sanders started in professional football with the Detroit Lions in 1989. He negotiated the highest salary ever offered to a non-quarterback, up to that time a five-year, $5.9 million contract with a $2.1 million signing bonus. Named Rookie of the Year, he also made The Sporting News All Pro Team in 1989.

The Sanders family relocated to Rochester Hills, Michigan, where Sanders attended Oakland University in the off-season. At the end of the 1999 season, he retired from football, needing only 1,458 yards to equal Walter Payton's 16,726-yard record as the NFL's all-time leading rusher. Barry Sanders also held nine other NFL records. At the end of the twentieth century he was in business in Rochester Hills. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2004.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Paul Attner, "Man of Mystery," The Sporting News (9 August 1999). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 14 August 2000. Jack Kavanagh, Barry Sanders, Rocket Running Back (Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1994).

Dianna Everett

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