The more years that pass since Barry Sanders last took a handoff in an NFL game, the more difficult it becomes to believe he was real. The Hall of Fame running back combined quickness, strength, agility, power, and grace. Sanders was a perfect running machine who frequently made defensive players look outright silly on the football field.
Sanders had many huge days in the NFL for the Detroit Lions. Here are his top ten rushing games.
#10. December 21, 1997, 184 yards
In the final game of the regular season, Sanders went off for 184 yards and vaulted way above the 2,000-yard mark. Barry scored one touchdown in this game against the Jets at the Silverdome, the only TD for the Lions in a 13-10 victory that secured a wild card spot for the team.
#9. October 29, 1989, 184 yards
This was just the eighth game of Barry’s career and his first time facing the Packers. Head coach Wayne Fontes decided to give Green Bay a healthy dose of his rookie running back, calling his number 30 times for 184 yards. Sanders didn’t find the end zone and the Lions lost the game, but it was a definitely a “I’ve arrived” moment for #20.
#8. September 13, 1998, 185 yards
Coming off his 2,000-yard season, Barry was great in Week #2 against the Bengals in the home opener. He scored three touchdowns and gained 185 yards on the ground while adding 44 more yards as a receiver. Cincinnati really had no answer for Barry on this day, but they did unfortunately have an answer for the Lions’ defense and outscored Detroit 34-28. This was the last multi-TD game of Barry’s career and he would only score one more touchdown the entire season, a frustrating year that pushed him to retire suddenly the next summer at the age of 30.
#7. November 7, 1993, 187 yards
Barry exploded for 187 yards on 29 carries in Detroit’s 23-0 whitewash of the Buccaneers at the dome to lift the Lions to 7-2. Sadly, three weeks later during the Thanksgiving game, Barry would suffer an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season. It would be the only serious injury of his career and it cut off what would have been a great year (he was on pace for more than 1,700 yards.) Detroit finished 10-6 and lost to the Packers in the playoffs, but it wasn’t Barry’s fault – he ran for 169 yards in the defeat at the Silverdome.
#6. December 4, 1994, 188 yards
Again against the Packers, Barry brought his A+ Game (he was always on his A Game). The Lions beat Green Bay at the Silverdome 34-31 with Sanders averaging more than nine yards per carry as he out-dueled Brett Favre. Barry would log 1,883 yards in 1994.
#5. September 19, 1994, 194 yards
Barry carried the ball 40 times in this battle against the Super Bowl champion Cowboys in Dallas, a career-high workload. On the other side, Emmitt Smith ran for 143 yards and a touchdown in what was battled as a clash of the best two running backs in the game. Jason Hanson’s field goal in overtime was the winner.
#4. October 12, 1997, 215 yards
Sanders scored three times in this game, two on the ground, as the Lions beat the Bucs in Tampa, 27-9. His big moment was an 82-yard run for a touchdown, one of the Barry’s greatest.
#3. November 23, 1997, 216 yards
How about nine yards per carry (216 on 24 attempts) in a 32-10 rout of the Colts at the Silverdome? This was the second 200-yard game of the season for Barry on his way to his best year.
#2. November 24, 1991, 220 yards
A few days before the Thanksgiving tilt, Sanders had probably the best game of his career in Minnesota against the Vikings. Barry ran for 220 yards on 23 carries (9.57 per) and he scored four times, on a 4-yarder, 9-yarder, 17-yard run, and a thrilling 45-yard scamper. Later, when the two teams met in the playoffs, Barry bolted for 47 yards in one his most electric runs. This was only his third NFL season.
#1. November 13, 1994, 237 yards
The third game from the ’94 season on this list, Barry’s 237 yards somehow couldn’t help the Lions distance themselves from Tampa Bay. Detroit won a tight game 14-9 with Barry putting up 253 all-purpose yards, the highest total of his career.