What was Barry Sanders? He was a lot of things to a lot of people, players and fans. His ability and his impact on the game on any given Sunday can't be described in a hundred words, or a thousand words, or more. When you watched him you had to suspend belief because what you were seeing wasn't possible on a football field.
Expectedly Unexpected. Commonly Unique.
What Barry did was make every game he was in a thrill to watch no matter what the score was. Points, winners, losers -- it all seemed to fade when Barry touched the ball. Breath held, we waited to see what was going to happen next. One tackle behind the line. Two. Three. Four. Five - wait - Magic!
You knew you were going to see something special, and yet every time he slipped a tackle, spun two defenders around, leaped over one player while simultaneous ducking another tackler and somehow still staying on his feet and headed to the endzone we sat and stared, mouth agape and mind unable to believe what we were seeing even though we expected to see it.
Barry had more negative runs than anyone else. He had more awe inspiring runs than any three other backs combined. Emmitt ground out the rushing record over time. Barry was the only back who could run about 100 mind numbing perplexing yards for a 20 yard touchdown. Spinning, juking faking.
He knew what defenders were going to do before they did, and then he avoided it. Jumping through holes that didn't exist, rolling away from hits that should have leveled a mac truck. Lowering his shoulder like he was going to be tackled, and then jumping back as defenders fell to their knees in front of him and taking off as those behind him did the same in an ironic type of homage as they grasped for that which couldn't be caught - couldn't be harnessed.
Barry Sanders was like an optical illusion on a football field. He wasn't the biggest. He wasn't the strongest. He wasn't the fastest. But when he touched the ball science stopped and Barry started. Inertia no longer existed and we saw angles and cuts and moves that defied the laws of physics but somehow conformed to the rules of the Gridiron. Barry's rules. Rules no one else could comprehend, much less follow or duplicate.
Watching Barry play made being a Lions fan something special. It wasn't about wins and losses -- it was about the mystical. The enchantment.
It was about once in a lifetime -- weekly.