Barry Sanders’ 1988 Heisman: 44 reasons it’s the greatest ever

In 1988, Barry Sanders set a brand new and enduring normal for what a soccer participant might do. He wasn’t simply nice in the approach that each one Heisman Trophy winners are nice. He wasn’t simply electrifying in the means any operating again who’s higher than everybody making an attempt to deal with him is electrifying. It’s not fairly proper to say Sanders pushed the limits of what a participant might do, as a result of no one else has completed it or may ever do it once more.

Thirty years after the reality, Sanders’ Heisman season stands alone. It’s the greatest particular person feat anybody’s ever reached in almost 150 years of this large, sprawling sport.


1 Sanders set dozens of data, although the NCAA screws him by not counting his bowl recreation stats towards his totals.

Probably the most notable Sanders entry in the report ebook: 2,628 dashing yards. However that doesn’t absolutely clarify the scale of the destruction.

In a Vacation Bowl romp towards Wyoming, Sanders carried 29 occasions for 222 yards and 5 touchdowns, the most dashing TDs in Vacation historical past. The NCAA doesn’t rely bowl stats earlier than 2002 in its report books, however we’re going to speak about Sanders’ season for what it was: much more bonkers than you’d assume for those who simply checked out the official numbers.

2 So, let’s speak about Sanders’ precise stats — the ones the sport’s authorities doesn’t need you to find out about.

  • 2,850 yards on 373 carries (a document, which the NCAA counts as 2,628)
  • A 7.64-yard common (a document for anybody who had almost that many carries)
  • 44 all-purpose touchdowns (a report, which the NCAA counts as 39), therefore the variety of gadgets on this article

three “Now the only thing I will ask you, on this article, please use the number 2,850,” Sanders’ head coach at OSU, Pat Jones, tells SB Nation. “OK?”

Sure, coach.

“It’s crazy. It’s bizarre. I usually tell guys when I do this article, ‘I will only do it if you use the number 2,850.’ Thank you for that.”

four Sanders’ most vital data aren’t only for FBS/Division I-A. They cowl the entire NCAA, proper right down to Division III.

Let’s rely for actual right here, not utilizing the NCAA’s bowl exclusion:

  • 2,850 dashing yards is greater than anybody’s ever gained at any degree of school or professional soccer. Division III Mount Union’s Nate Kmic had 2,790 in 15 video games in 2008, in comparison with Sanders’ 12.
  • 44 touchdowns are tied with Kmic for the most ever and forward of anybody else in NCAA historical past. Once more, that’s with Kmic enjoying in three extra video games.

Subsequently, Sanders did in an influence convention what no one else might do even in non-scholarship soccer.

5 “Sanders is probably the poster child for looking under rocks,” his coach says.

The Wichita native had visited Iowa State and Tulsa by the time Oklahoma State satisfied him to sign up the class of 1987. Jones’ employees was assured it might land him. An enormous cause? Kansas and Kansas State had gone by way of teaching modifications and kind of missed Sanders.

“Not trying to make excuses for ‘em, but they kinda got lost in the shuffle,” Jones says. “They might’ve been in the image, I feel, in the event that they stayed on prime of it.

George Walstad, the Oklahoma State defensive position coach whose recruiting territory included Kansas, had been on Sanders for some time. After he noticed him in a high-school all-star recreation someplace — in all probability Topeka — the line coach was smitten.

“This kid might be a little bit better than even I realized he was,” Walstad informed Jones.

6 The dashing numbers are just one half. Sanders scored on his first contact in 1988: a kick return.

Recreation 1’s opening kickoff.

7 That made Sanders the solely man ever to return a season-opening kickoff for a landing two seasons in a row.

Returning kicks and punts was an enormous a part of Sanders’ job in 1987, when OSU had Thurman Thomas forward of him at RB.

eight Considered one of the easiest testaments to how good Sanders was in school had come at the finish of 1987.

Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer says he particularly warned his 1987 employees about Sanders, who was backing up a fellow future Professional Soccer Corridor of Famer.

“I walked in and said to our staff, ‘I want to tell you guys something. You better hope Thurman Thomas doesn’t get hurt. ‘ They looked at me like I was crazy,” Switzer stated. “I stated, ‘Come take a look at this cat, a [sophomore] from Wichita named Barry Sanders. Thurman is sweet, however he isn’t nearly as good as this dude. ‘

“We would let Thurman go and play the first three series, and Sanders would go and play the next three series, and then we would let ‘em alternate themselves,” Jones says. “And they handled it great. Sanders has no real ego to speak of, and Thomas does, but Thomas understood — Thurman knew how talented Sanders was. He could tell that.”

9 In fact, Sanders had a knack for first impressions.

Jones tells the story of Sanders’ operating three-cone drills after arriving on campus earlier than the ‘87 season:

As soon as we obtained him in, our power coach at the time was a man named John Stuckey. John’s gone now, however John had put these incoming guys by way of a battery of some little agility checks and a few of this type of stuff simply to see the place they have been. I keep in mind Barry did some issues, movement-wise, that have been higher than we had ever had recorded.

10 Sanders didn’t even wish to exit. He simply appreciated to carry weights.

The New York Occasions reported on his routine that November:

These closest to Sanders say he has nearly no social life. He’s a mean scholar who spends most of his time training soccer, lifting weights, learning, and resting. A non-athlete classmate stated she had seen Sanders at a bible research class however by no means at a film, dance, or campus tavern.

Sanders’s favourite hangout is the weight room. His muscular, 197-pound physique is a telltale indication of his ardour for weight coaching and explains his capability to interrupt tackles.

Jerry Schmidt, the Cowboys’ power coach, stated Sanders bench presses 360 kilos and his squat is 557 kilos.

’’That charges with the linemen,’’ Schmidt added. ‘’I used to be at Notre Dame and Nebraska earlier than I got here right here and I by no means noticed a child in both of these packages who labored as exhausting as Sanders. I’ve to observe him rigorously or he’ll carry an excessive amount of.’’

11 Sanders ran for 238.9 yards per recreation, one other all-NCAA document.

This ticks right down to 237.5 should you rely the bowl recreation, when he ran for 222 yards.

That is one among the only a few areas the place NCAA accounting is kind of charitable to Sanders. The opposite is that he’s credited with 12 consecutive video games operating for 2 TDs or extra, a report. Sanders didn’t have a TD in the 1987 Solar Bowl, and since that doesn’t rely, however the final recreation of the ‘87 regular season does, Sanders gets a 12-game streak. But Sanders would’ve gotten to 12 video games anyway if the ‘88 Vacation Bowl counted.

12 Sanders’ stop-and-start means, which outlined a lot of his NFL profession, first turned a nationwide factor in 1988 in Stillwater.

“College kids couldn’t tackle him,” Jones says.

13 Sanders’ NCAA-approved 39 complete touchdowns are in the ebook as “tied” for many all-time with Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in 2011.

In fact, Ball had yet one more regular-season recreation, a Massive Ten title recreation, and a bowl recreation to juice these numbers. Sanders had as many TDs in 11 video games as the man he’s “tied” with had in 14, and outdid him by 5 should you rely Sanders’ five-TD bowl recreation.

14 Sanders scored 264 factors in 1988, 28 greater than No. 2 Ball.

The NCAA once more counts it in another way, however no matter.

Put one other method, Sanders scored 22 factors per recreation — greater than 47 of the 105 Division I-A groups in motion that yr and a landing extra per recreation than Rutgers managed in 2017.

15 Sanders’ breakdown of 44 TDs: 42 dashing, one kick return, one punt return.

Individuals typically overlook the particular groups scores. Actually, individuals overlook how good Sanders was on particular groups all through his school profession. He had six return touchdowns in three school seasons, making him a one-percenter there, too.

16 It’s not simply record-keeping that fails to do Sanders’ yr justice. It was additionally Oklahoma State itself, which yanked him early in a whole lot of video games.

“People don’t mention that,” Jones says when requested. “Thanks for bringing it up. He should’ve literally, I mean, you had to see it to understand it. He could’ve had a thousand more yards … He could’ve had 4,000 yards probably, that season, if we’d have just did it.”

Vacation Bowl victory in hand, Sanders sat out his remaining quarter as a university athlete.

17 The one issues that challenged Sanders’ numbers have been early hooks and Oklahoma State’s occasional selections to let different individuals have the ball.

“I remember one time, we were in this discussion about how to get him in the ball game a little bit more,” Jones says. “One of the coaches made the remark, ‘Hey, Coach, if he’s in there and [QB Mike] Gundy checks to this protection and they blitz the weak-side linebacker, he might not remember who to block.’ It was one of those things, and I said, ‘Well I can solve that right now.’ I just erased the protection. We were gonna get him out there.”

To coaches, blocking for Gundy was simply not a productive use of Sanders’ time.

18 Sanders rushed for at the least two TDs in each recreation he performed.

Simply counting the 11 non-bowl video games, that’s nonetheless greater than anybody else ever.

19 Sanders rushed for no less than three TDs in 9 of 12 video games.

The NCAA counts this as eight out of 11, which allowed Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs to tie him in 2013. That is one other one the place, in actuality, Sanders isn’t tied with anybody.

20 Sanders had 4 300-yard dashing video games in a single season.

That’s a solo profession report.


22 Rolling in Sanders’ return recreation, he averaged a report 295.5 all-purpose yards per recreation.

And on this one, we’re simply going with the NCAA’s accounting, as a result of in line with this sport’s statistical sloppiness over the years, Sanders’ receiving and returning stats for that Vacation Bowl aren’t available

23 Sanders was arduous for a voracious media to wrangle all yr.

Right here’s a joke from the Billings Gazette, a Montana newspaper:

Writers from round the nation flocked to Oklahoma State College in Stillwater, Oklah., for a serious interview final week with operating again Bary Sanders — tantamount to his anointment as sudden inheritor to the Heisman Trophy. So the place was Barry Sanders?

The media have been grumbling (as in, how dare he chew the hand that may feed him school soccer’s prime prize?), when, lastly, OSU’s sports activities info workplace despatched a search get together, fished Sanders from the faculty library and delivered him to the publicity makers.

“I was cramming for an exam,” he defined, embarrassed.

The category?

Dum roll, please



“I’m not smart enough to be a doctor or lawyer,” Sanders says.”I’ve all the time been fairly good with numbers, although.”

24 Sanders missed his personal Heisman ceremony, as a result of he was enjoying that weekend … in Tokyo.

He went over 300 yards towards Texas Tech in the Coca-Cola Basic, which I feel makes him the solely participant on an American group to ever eclipse 300 yards in a recreation outdoors North America. The NCAA studied the tape and credited him with 75 of these yards after the recreation was over.

25 Sanders, a legendary napper, cared extra about sleep than the trophy.

Jones tells this Heisman story:

“They have been gonna deliver the truck over there to the lodge to place him on TV. Then we have been knowledgeable that they didn’t have the capability to try this. We’ve gotta attempt to get him to downtown Tokyo … They inform us, ‘You’ve gotta get him down right here. We’ll ship limos.’ Properly, Sanders was a infamous sleeper, OK? He favored sleep. Plus the undeniable fact that we gotta rise up and eat the pregame meal and go play an actual ballgame.

We’re nonetheless in the prime 10 in the nation, and we have to win this ballgame. I used to be making an attempt to speak them into saying, ‘Hey, do something else and let us kinda go about our business here,’ after which it was such an enormous deal to the networks, they have been placing a ton of strain on us to get him down there. So I went and obtained the offensive linemen, who have been all his buddies, and the fullback was his buddy. I informed him, ‘I’ll make y’all a deal right here. OK. You guys rise up and also you get him up and get him down right here, and I’ll take ya down there to the studio with us.’

They thought it was an enormous deal. Sanders needed to sleep. All of these linemen and the fullback, that clearly was an enormous deal. We informed no matter community it was, ‘You get a couple more limos, and have ‘em out here, and we’ll convey the entire group down there,’ they usually stated OK.”

So, Sanders and his linemen took limos to his acceptance video hit.

26 Sanders’ offensive line was good! As Sanders typically factors out, it deserves credit score for serving to him have an all-time season.

Let’s simply have amusing at this gap they opened up on a TD towards Colorado:

27 Sanders acquired OSU receiver Hart Lee Dykes into the report books with him.

That’s for “touchdowns scored by two teammates,” with 60. The “Triplets” — Gundy, Sanders, and Dykes — made the 1988 Pokes considered one of 4 FBS groups in historical past to have a 2,000-yard passer, a 2,000-yard rusher, and a 1,000-yard receiver at the similar time.

28 Sanders even obtained his brother into the NCAA data.

Do you know that is in the FBS report e-book?

Most Yards Gained by Two Brothers

You do now.

Byron performed at Northwestern. Collectively, they mixed for three,912 dashing yards in 1988.

29 Think about being a 1,000-yard rusher in the Massive Ten and having fewer rush yards than your little brother by an element of almost three.

Byron was fifth in the Huge Ten in dashing in ‘88. The yr earlier than that, he had 295 dashing yards in a recreation, second-most in NU historical past. And the most memorable factor about his profession is the document he acquired together with his brother.

“If you had ever seen my brother run, you would never mistake anyone else for him,” Byron as soon as informed a fan.

30 Barry Sanders owns data for dashing yards over spans of three, 4, or 5 video games, whichever one you may need to decide.

  • Three video games: 937
  • 4 video games: 1,152
  • 5 video games: 1,427

Solely Ricky Williams’ absurd 668 in two video games retains Sanders from sweeping all 4 of those.


32 Over the years, followers in different conferences have tried to denigrate Sanders’ season by bashing OSU’s power of schedule. That’s ridiculous.

You’re muttering to your self, Huge Ten/SEC fan, about the Huge 12 not enjoying protection. It’s true that even in the 1980s, the Huge eight was a rootin’ tootin’ convention, although its uncooked defensive rankings have been dragged down by — who else? — Kansas, together with a pre-Invoice Snyder Kansas State. However! Sanders confronted No. 16 scoring protection Nebraska (189 dashing yards, 5.four per carry, 4 dashing TDs), No. 20 Colorado (174, 7.three, 4), No. 30 Oklahoma (215, 5.5, two), and three different above-average defenses.

That’s as many top-30 scoring defenses as Herschel Walker confronted in his 1,752-yard Heisman season. And the similar variety of top-60 defenses. Only for one instance.

33 Sanders demolished mediocre groups like the GOAT ought to’ve, whereas additionally getting numbers towards good groups.

  • Texas A&M allowed 118 dashing yards per non-Barry recreation. Sanders received 157.
  • Tulsa averaged 147 dashing yards allowed to whole groups that didn’t have Barry. Sanders doubled that up, plus tax: 304.
  • Nebraska: 122 towards non-Sanders groups. Sanders: 189.

34 Fast interjection: Look what Sanders did to Nebraska:

“That Nebraska thing was crazy, and that was a good Nebraska defense,” Jones says. “They had us down. We’re down like 40 points or something, and I’m thinking, ‘They’re gonna score a hundred on us.’ And they couldn’t tackle him, and it ends up 63-42. It’s the most points ever scored against an Osborne team for a long time, and he was just running all over them.”

35 OK. Look what Sanders did to everybody else:

  • Oklahoma: 128 towards non-Sanders groups. Sanders: 215.
  • Iowa State: 235 to entire groups that didn’t have Sanders, and 293 to only Sanders.
  • Texas Tech: 228 per recreation vs. 10 whole groups, 332 to Barry.
  • Wyoming: 118 towards non-Sanders groups. Sanders: 222.
  • And towards everybody else on the schedule, his complete principally equaled complete common opposing floor video games.

36 Do these massive totals imply imply Sanders was hogging carries? Not likely.

He averaged 7.6 per tote, so feeding him was a good suggestion (daring take), however he didn’t lead the nation in rushes. Sanders’ 344 would’ve been the nationwide excessive in just one yr of that decade, 1984. Regular workhorse complete, with paranormal outcomes.

If racking up all-time numbers towards ‘80s Big 8 defenses was so easy, why didn’t everyone do it? Professional/School Corridor of Famer Thurman Thomas began for OSU in the years prior, and his two greatest years every fell 1,000 in need of Sanders’ ‘88.

“When you had Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and the old Big 8, it was a more than credible league defensively,” Jones says.

Utilizing high quality of competitors as an argument towards Barry Sanders, of all individuals, is weak. Did you not see him haul the sad-ass Lions to half of their all-time post-merger playoff bids?


38 Wow, teaching Sanders looks like it should have been really easy. Pat Jones, did you ever simply wanna crack a beer, sit again, and watch him run?

“No, because it was so enthralling,” the head coach says. “Even in practice, he was a good practice player, and we went at it hard. I mean, he would make great four-yard runs. It didn’t have to be a 59-yard run. Sometimes somebody would get turned loose on him, and he’d make him miss or spin off of him or something like that.”

Jones added: “Virtually every run he made, every time he did anything, even a kick return or catching a pass or whatever, was just like ‘wow, bang.’”

39 Going up towards Sanders was a nightmare.

In late September, Jackie Sherrill introduced his Texas A&M Aggies to Stillwater. Oklahoma State had solely performed one recreation, two weeks earlier towards Miami (Ohio).

“You knew who he was, but you didn’t know who he was,” Sherrill says now.

Sanders had began the yr robust, however by way of his entire profession, he’d principally been a kick returner behind Thomas. Sherrill and his employees had no concept what they have been in for till Sanders ran a draw play in the first quarter, with the Cowboys dealing with a third-and lengthy.

“We really did not know anything about Barry,” Sherrill says. “But it was a shock playing him. Matter of fact, I think it was like third-and-10 the first time he ran a draw play, and you can’t put in the paper what I said.”

Sanders weaved by way of tacklers for a primary down. Sherrill had visions of Tony Dorsett, the Heisman-winning again he’d coached a decade earlier at Pitt.

“His ability to shift and burst, and he never got touched very much, because he had the ability to set the tacklers up, and same thing with Tony,” Sherrill remembers. “Tony was not tackled in the open very much, because he had too many gears in his speed that he could burst, plus Barry had so much east-west movements.”

40 However that is the place going up towards Sanders was virtually like a dream.

“As a coach, you’re trying to figure out how to defend him,” Sherrill says. “But as a coach, you’re also in awe of him.”

He had two dashing touchdowns, together with one from 58 yards out, and in addition a 61-yard punt-return rating.


42 Check out No. 16 there for Texas A&M, on an island alone with Sanders for a second, earlier than Sanders blows previous him and scores.

That’s the Aggies’ punter, sophomore Sean Wilson.

In 1987, his freshman yr, Wilson hit one punt that acquired returned for a landing — a 74-yard runback by Texas Tech’s Tyrone Thurman.

One other Wilson punt didn’t get became a landing till Sanders, in the third recreation of ‘88, did that to him and left him sprawled out on his abdomen.

No different A&M punts have been returned for touchdowns for the remainder of 1988. Nor in 1989. Nor in 1990. After this season, Wilson graduated. He by no means performed in the NFL.

On Nov. four, 2000, Oklahoma State’s Gabe Lindsay was the subsequent participant to return an A&M punt for a landing. The subsequent man was Wes Welker. (This was a random web rabbit gap factor. Let’s get again on track.)

43 Sanders turned the uncommon participant to encourage a throwback jersey particularly in his identify 30 years later.

Texas v Oklahoma State

Photograph by Brian Bahr/Getty Photographs

44 Calling Sanders’ 1988 the greatest season in school soccer historical past may brief the impossibility of what he did.

“It might be in any sport,” Jones says. “This is able to be like hitting 100 residence runs or one thing in the main leagues, or some kinda factor. Whilst time has gone on, once more, to assume what he did with the landing document and the entire factor.

“All records are made to be broken, and they’re playing more games now and all this kinda stuff, but the 2,850 and 42 rushing touchdowns, that’s one that’s gonna hang on for awhile.”