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Around here, Barry Sanders is still the one

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, August 8, 2010, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, August 9, 2010, at 5:05 p.m.

Watching the buildup to this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the attention centered, understandably, on Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.

The former, we'll grant, is the greatest receiver in the game's history, setting record numbers that far and away eclipse those of his next closest competitor.

Of course Emmitt Smith, the holder of the career rushing record, is unquestionably the greatest... well, no... I can't write it.

While Smith was a fantastic running back and certainly the perfect fit for the dominant team of the 1990s, here in Barry Sanders country, we can't accept that Emmitt was better.

Sure it's all well and good to provide empirical evidence to bolster Smith's status, such as those 18,355 rushing yards, the 164 rushing touchdowns and the Super Bowl XXVIII MVP trophy.

How can we even counter Smith's dominance?

We could argue Sanders' 10-8 advantage in Pro Bowls and 6-4 margin in All-Pro selections; his superior yards per attempt (5 to 4.2) or his yards per game (99.8 to 81.2).

Of course the numbers that really stand out for Barry are the 15,269 rushing yards in only 10 seasons, where Emmitt needed 15 seasons to accumulate his total.

And then there's this number (as the billboard off I-135 attests from time to time between other advertisements):

2,053

Emmitt never had a season like Barry's 1997 campaign. Fourteen straight 100-yard games, including two of more than 200 to finish with 2,053 yards. In Detroit's season finale the Lions played a win-or-go-home game against the New York Jets. Barry ran for 184 yards, propelling the Lions into the playoffs, where...they lost.

Barry is the greatest player in the history of one of the oldest, if not always successful, franchises in the league's history.

Emmitt wasn't always even the best player on his own teams.

The Emmitt vs. Barry numbers don't really matter, though.

Barry was better, because he was ours. It's as simple as that.

Who in Wichita, outside of the city's contingent of Cowboys fans, would argue otherwise?

Aside from Barry's father, that is, who always gave the nod of "Greatest Ever" to Jim Brown.

Barry was better because one was likely to see him in Wichita from time to time — on the golf course or in a store.

He was polite. He signed autographs. He allowed fans to tell him repeatedly of that one game, or that one run or that amazing move.

He was the type of person who would invite a fan to his table at a restaurant and share the pizza he and his friends were eating.

Of course the same could probably be said of Emmitt Smith in Dallas or his hometown of Pensacola, Fla.

I have no evidence that Smith is a bad guy at all.

He's just not ours.

There is this final argument in Sanders' favor: there is not a significant portion of his Wikipedia page dedicated to a dance-by-dance breakdown of his appearances on "Dancing with the Stars."

Who's next? — In the time since Sanders took the mantle from Jim Ryun as Wichita's most famous athlete, we've had a number of false starts for the subsequent generations of athletes.

DeAngelo Evans and Korleone Young didn't quite make it to NFL and NBA the way we thought they might.

Maurice Evans, Rashad Washington, Elbert Mack, Mike Pelfrey and Kamerion Wimbley have all had nice pro careers, but they haven't made the national impact Sanders did.

To the next group of potential stars, I just ask this: Be cool. Don't embarrass yourself. Make us proud when you're in an All-Star Game or a championship series.

Then for the rest of your life you'll have middle-aged sportswriters and bar patrons in Wichita sing your praises and claim you were way better than Michael Jordan, Johnny Unitas or Joe DiMaggio.

We're easy to please.

Run 'n' Gun is The Eagle Sports staff's weekly look at the offbeat side of sports.

Eagle online sports producer Joshua Wood would argue that Sanders' helmet-shaped hair was also Hall of Fame worthy. Reach him at 316-268-6413 or jwood@wichitaeagle.com

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