Team for the Ages —Barry Sanders

NFL's third all-time leading rusher was the greatest highlight runner of his time

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Barry Sanders

Over the past three months, thousands of fans voted in our "Team For the Ages" contest to construct the best imaginable 50-man roster from the NFL’s modern era, which began in 1967. The votes have been counted, and we’re unveiling one player each weekday between now and the kickoff of the 2018 NFL season.

RB Barry Sanders

Legacy one-liner

Sanders retired in 1998 from the NFL at age 31 only 1,457 rushing yards shy of the league's all-time leader, Walter Payton. Emmitt Smith eventually passed both, tallying 18,355 yards on 4,409 carries. But Sanders totaled 15,269 rush yards on only 3,062 carries — 1,347 fewer carries than Smith.

They said it

"I never valued [the rushing-yard record] so much that I thought it was worth my dignity or Walter’s dignity to pursue it amid so much media and marketing attention.” — Sanders at his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement

Key stat

In his insane 1997 season, Sanders was held in check in Weeks 1 and 2 — 33 and 20 rushing yards, respectively. But over the final 14 games, he totaled 2,000 yards rushing. That's 142.9 a game over that stretch.

Did you know?

Sanders is believed to have had the most negative rushing yards in history at minus-1,114 (on 336 carries). Take those out and he averaged 6.0 yards per run over his career.

Signature game

In 1991, the Lions hadn't made the playoffs in eight years and hadn't won a postseason game since 1957. After opening 5-0 in Sanders' third NFL season, the Lions faltered around midseason. With the playoffs hanging in the balance, Sanders delivered perhaps his best game: 220 yards and four TDs on only 23 carries (also 31 yards receiving).

He scored on runs of 4, 9, 17 and 45 yards that day at the Metrodome, and his best run of the day might have been another 45-yarder in the fourth quarter to break the hearts of the Vikings in a 34-14 win. The Vikings held every other opponent to 3.7 yards a run that season. Sanders lit them up for 7.0 yards a clip in 1991.

A month later, the Lions would make the playoffs and beat the Cowboys in the wildcard. That's the last time they won a postseason game.

Previous "Team for the Ages" player unveilings

Tom Brady

Reggie White

Jerry Rice

Walter Payton

Anthony Munoz

Joe Greene

Lawrence Taylor

Ronnie Lott

Dick Butkus

Tony Gonzalez

Pro Football Weekly