Barry Sanders is one of the most electrifying players in football history, winning the 1988 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State before rushing for 1,000-plus yards in each of his 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Sanders’ best year came late in his career as his NFL odds to win the league’s MVP soared throughout a dominant 1997 season that saw him rush for 2,053 yards.
A part of those 2,053 yards was a dazzling performance on Thanksgiving, a day Sanders made a lot of memories on during his time in the NFL. Perhaps no player has had more big-time performances than Sanders on Thanksgiving.
Here are his best.
1989 vs. Cincinnati
This was an ugly showing for the Lions, losing 42-7, but the lone bright spot was a rookie Sanders lighting it up in his first Thanksgiving game. He ran for 114 yards and one TD on 18 carries.
Sanders went on to win the Rookie of the Year award. He was also a Pro Bowl selection in 1989, an honor he accomplished in all 10 seasons of his NFL career.
1990 vs. Denver
In a 40-27 win, Sanders showed his versatility with 23 carries for 147 yards and a TD while hauling in three catches for 30 yards and another score. Still just two seasons into his pro career, Sanders was 2-for-2 on creating Thanksgiving memories for a national audience.
1995 vs. Minnesota
This was a dream showdown for football betting fans that love to take the over on total points.
Detroit defeated Minnesota 44-38 in a back-and-forth classic. While the quarterbacks stole the show (Minnesota’s Warren Moon had 384 yards passing and three TDs; Detroit’s Scott Mitchell had 410 yards passing and four TDs), Sanders was once again a steady and reliable presence with 24 carries for 138 yards and a score.
1997 vs. Chicago
Sanders went off against Detroit’s rival opponent, rushing 19 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions routed Chicago, winning 55-20 after falling behind 17-3. Sanders scored on touchdown runs of 40, 25, and 15 yards.
This was his second-to-last Thanksgiving game, showing how on top of his game Sanders was in the latter years of his career.
NOTHING was better than watching Barry Sanders on Thanksgiving.
Remember this game in 1997 vs the Bears?
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) November 26, 2020
Sanders’ Thanksgiving Total Stats
Sanders is an all-time Thanksgiving Day performer. He appeared in 10 games, helping Detroit go 7-3 as he tallied 210 carries for 931 yards and eight TDs. He is second all-time in rushing yards in Thanksgiving games behind Emmitt Smith’s 1,178. His eight rushing TDs are third all-time behind Smith’s 13 and Tony Dorsett’s nine.
Sanders’ 167-yard rushing performance in 1997 is the fifth-most rushing yards in a Thanksgiving game. O.J. Simpson ran for 273 yards in 1976, Bob Hoernschemeyer went for 198 yards in 1950, Earl Campbell had 195 yards in 1979, and Walter Payton rushed for 179 yards in 1981.
Of course, he created iconic moments throughout his NFL career and not just in Thanksgiving games. Sanders ranks No. 4 all-time with 15,269 rushing yards, No. 8 with 3,062 rushing attempts, and No. 10 with 99 rushing TDs.