Oh, I’m sorry, were you talking to me about this year’s Heisman hopefuls? The running for the most-prestigious college football award with the most famous pose has been less a sprint and more a saunter this year. There is no runaway favorite, but considering how tight the field is, there is also very little excitement. There are no defensive beasts like Ndamukong Suh, no charming love stories hoaxes like those surrounding Manti Te’o, and no signature performances to clinch the award.
Even the standouts this year are either surrounded by controversy (Florida State’s Jameis Winston), playing for teams that get no respect (Boston College’s Andre Williams and Northern Illinois’s Jordan Lynch), or reduced their chances of victory by choking in big games (Oregon’s Marcus Mariota v. Stanford and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd v. Florida State).
That’s why in college football fan hospitals everywhere you hear doctors shouting, “We need 5 mins of Barry Sanders YouTube, STAT!!” The scintillating, slippery, speedy and so soft-spoken Sanders won the Heisman 25 years ago and set the standard for college football running backs everywhere. Starting only one year at Oklahoma State, Sanders was the Cowpokes’s offense. In a mere twelve games, he ran for over 2800 yards, scored 44 touchdowns, broke scores of ankles, and left Big Eight Conference defensive coordinators in a fetal position. Ladies and gentlemen, your 1988 Heisman winner!
Even more than this, Sanders performed an even rarer feat by being just as successful as a pro and retiring when healthy. Heisman winners have a long tradition of having amazing college skills that do not translate to professional success. Sanders had those skills to the extent that he could have retired as the NFL career rushing leader. Instead he chose to preserve his health and retire while he could still enjoy his life in a healthy way. In this way, he avoided the fate of Earl Campbell, Mike Webster, and other legends who suffered in their retirement due to the pounding they took on the field.
Smart and stealthy on and off the field – thank you for your great career and example, Barry.