When it comes to ranking the greatest single seasons ever compiled, the conversation begins and ends with Barry Sanders.
The Oklahoma State running back spent two years backing up Thurman Thomas before taking over as the team’s starter in 1988. In his junior year, he did more than rewrite the NCAA record book – he shredded it and replaced it with his own narrative. Sanders rushed for 2,850 in 12 games, averaging 7.6 yards a carry, tallying four 300-yard games and scoring 44 total touchdowns.
Yet, despite his accolades, Sanders has long been regarded as one of the most professional and humble athletes to play the game. He attributed his approach to the game to his upbringing in Wichita, Kan., where he worked with his father as a roofer during the summers before college. That work ethic translated to the field, where, in high school, he once passed up the opportunity to set a rushing record with his team far ahead.
This act of unselfishness would become one of his trademarks. When he scored, he simply handed the ball to the official. He didn’t talk trash or dance in the end zone.
In the NFL, Sanders would cement himself as possibly the best running back to ever play the game, making the Pro Bowl in each of the 10 years he played and leading the league in rushing four times. Though he was less than 1,500 yards away from breaking the NFL’s career rushing record, Sanders opted to retire from the game.