Why Barry Sanders is the Best Athlete Ever

I considered many different athletes before choosing Barry Sanders as the best athlete ever. I needed to decide what makes a person an athlete; or better yet, a great athlete. It was easier to eliminate people based on sport to narrow down the field. First, I eliminated anything that any Joe off the street can master. This eliminated sports like golf, tennis, and cycling. Sorry Tiger, Lance, and all those great tennis players. (I truly consider Lance Armstrong a great athlete, but just not the best.)

Next, although it hurt me to do so, I eliminated baseball. Baseball is my favorite sport. Many of its players are the greatest athletes to ever live; people like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt (Phillies fan), and Albert Pujols. But if you stacked the athleticism of baseball players against that of football players, I don’t think it would be fair. Football players just won, in my book. I don’t know why, they just seem more athletic.

The same can be held true for basketball players. Although basketball players may be the best conditioned, the physicality of their sport doesn’t match up to football. These were my criteria for selecting which sport would have the best athlete. Next, I needed a name.

Some of the candidates I considered were Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders (winner), Michael Vick, Jerry Rice, and Jim Brown. I tried not to include a quarterback unless he was multi-dimensional. This gave me Steve Young, Randall Cunningham, and Michael Vick. However, when I held them up to the running backs and wide receivers of the game, they were eliminated. Quarterbacks may be the best players on the team, in many cases (Peyton Manning, Dan Marino), but I don’t consider them the best athletes.

The majority of the players who play defense were also quickly eliminated from consideration; for obvious reasons. A 375 pound man is never going to be the most athletic anything. This left me with only running backs and wide receivers. The one and only name on the wide receivers list was Jerry Rice. He was the greatest, so he was there. He was gone when I realized that, while athletic, and tough, and great, and conditioned, and everything else needed to be a great athlete, wide receivers are just not quite the physical presence that running backs tend to be. This left me with my area from which to choose the best athlete ever.

Now that I narrowed the field down considerably, who should I pick? Early choices included Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Jim Brown, and Bo Jackson. Bo knows football but he also knew early retirement; and not of his choosing. So I got rid of Bo. Jim Brown I honestly don’t know enough about to rank him the greatest athlete. I know all the stats and talents that he had, but I never saw him play, never saw him on TV, and wasn’t even alive when he played. It just wouldn’t be fair to name him. This gave me Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. Both are great, hall of fame, legends. Both are two of the greatest to ever play the game. Both could have been picked. So why choose Barry?

Barry Sanders was my choice for the best athlete ever because you never knew just how great he was going to be on any given Sunday. You knew that he was going to be great, but at what level? Honestly, Barry Sanders is/was the only player that I ever saw that could score a touchdown each time he carried the football. I know that people are saying the same about Reggie Bush, but give it time people. Barry Sanders lived up to that hype.

With Barry Sanders, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he scored 100 touchdowns in a season. He could have rushed for 3000 yards and I would have expected it. He had that, once in a lifetime, something, that made me realize that I was watching a talent level that may never be equaled, or even approached. He could zig and zag through the defense like nobody. He was almost invisible.

When he retired, way too early, but of his own choosing, he needed only 1458 yards to catch Walter Payton. Had he continued to play until his body caught up with (or slowed down to) his desire to play, how many yards could he have attained? 20,000? How about touchdowns? Would 200 have been possible? Now, just imagine what he could have done if he had played for a team like the 49’ers or the Cowboys. If Barry Sanders had been chosen by Dallas instead of Emmitt Smith; who was great, just what would we be looking at now? I can’t even imagine what the records would be.

No, Barry Sanders may not have been the biggest or the fastest or even the toughest, but he was the best. He was the greatest athlete that I have ever seen.

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