This Day in College Football History – July 16th

Barry Sanders (born July 16, 1968) is a former running back who spent his entire professional career with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League. A member of both the college and professional football halls of fame, he was ranked by NFL Top 10 as the most elusive runner in NFL history, and also topped their list of greatest players never to reach the Super Bowl. Averaging over 1,500 rushing yards per season, Sanders left the game just 1,457 yards short of being first place on the list for the NFL all-time rushing record at that time.A Wichita, Kansas native, Sanders attended Wichita North High School. Sanders started at tailback his sophomore year, but took a back seat to his brother Byron the following year. Sanders did not become the starting running back until the fourth game of his senior year. He rushed for 1,417 yards in the final seven games of the season, which earned him all-state honors. During that seven-game span, Sanders averaged 10.2 yards per carry, but he was overlooked by most college recruiters.

Sanders played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys from 1986 to 1988, and wore the #21. During his first two years, he backed up All-American Thurman Thomas. In 1987, he led the nation in yards per kickoff return (31.6), while also rushing for over 600 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns. Thomas moved on to the NFL, and Sanders became the starter for his junior year. In 1988, in what has been called the greatest individual season in college football history, Sanders led the nation by averaging 7.6 yards per carry and over 200 yards per game, including rushing for over 300 yards in four games. Despite his massive workload of 344 carries, Sanders was still used as the team’s punt and kickoff returner, adding another 516 yards on special teams. He set college football season records with 2,628 yards rushing, 3,248 total yards, 234 points, 39 touchdowns, 37 rushing touchdowns, 5 consecutive 200 yard games, scored at least 2 touchdowns in 11 consecutive games, and 9 times he scored at least 3 touchdowns. Sanders also ran for 222 yards and scored 5 touchdowns in his three quarters of action in the 1988 Holiday Bowl, a game that is not included in the official NCAA season statistics. Sanders learned of his Heisman Trophy win while he was with the team in Tokyo, Japan preparing to face Texas Tech in the Coca-Cola Classic. He chose to leave Oklahoma State before his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

The Detroit Lions selected Sanders with the 3rd overall pick in the 1989 Draft, thanks to the endorsement of then-coach Wayne Fontes. The Lions’ management considered drafting another Sanders, cornerback Deion Sanders, but Fontes convinced them to draft Barry Sanders instead. He was offered #20, which had been worn by former Lions greats Lem Barney and Billy Sims; Sims was one of the league’s best running backs in the early 1980s, and Fontes had requested Sanders to wear the number in tribute to Sims. Though there were concerns about his size, it turned out these concerns were unfounded. Sanders was far too quick for defenders to hit solidly on a consistent basis, and too strong to bring down with arm tackles. Though short at 5’8″, his playing weight was 203 lb and Sanders had a large portion of this weight in his exceptionally large and muscular legs, which provided him with excellent acceleration and a very low center of mass; his weight was also the same as Walter Payton and only slightly under the NFL average for a back. In contrast to many of the star players of his era, Sanders was also noted for his on-field humility. Despite his flashy playing style, Sanders was rarely seen celebrating after the whistle was blown. Instead, he preferred to hand the ball to a referee or congratulate his teammates. In 1989, Sanders missed his rookie year training camp due to a contract dispute. He ran for eighteen yards his first carry during the regular season, and scored a touchdown on his fourth. He finished the season second in the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns after declining to go back into the regular season finale just 10 yards shy of the rushing title (later won by Christian Okoye), and won the Rookie of the Year Award. Barry was the featured running back on the Lion teams that made the playoffs five times during the 1990s (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1997). He was a member of the 1991 and 1993 squads that won the NFC Central division title; the 1991 team won 12 regular season games (a franchise record). In 1994, Sanders rushed for 1,883 yards, on a 5.7 yards per carry average. He also totaled 283 receiving yards, which gave him a combined 2,166 yards from scrimmage for the season. He was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. In 1995, Sanders posted 1,500 yards rushing with 398 receiving yards, beating his rushing total alone of the ’94 season. In 1996, Sanders rushed for 1,553 yards with a career-low 147 receiving yards.

Sanders’ greatest season came in 1997 when he became a member of the 2000 rushing yards club. After a start in which he gained 53 yards on 25 carries in the first two games of the season, Sanders ran for an NFL record 14 consecutive 100 yard games, including two 200 yard performances, en route to rushing for 2,053 yards. In reaching the 2,000 yard plateau, he became only the third player to do so in a single season and the first since O. J. Simpson to rush for 2,000 yards in a span of 14 consecutive games. He was the first running back to rush for 1,500 yards in five seasons and the only one to do it four consecutive years. At the end of the season, Sanders shared the Associated Press’s NFL Most Valuable Player Award with Green Bay QB Brett Favre. In Sanders’ last season in the NFL, 1998, he rushed for 1,491 yards, ending his four-year streak of rushing for over 1,500 yards in a season.

Despite his individual success, the Lions never reached the Super Bowl while Sanders was with the team. The closest they came was in the 1991 season. Aided by Sanders’ 1,855 combined rushing/receiving yards and 17 touchdowns during the season, they recorded a 12–4 record and went on to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 38–6 in the divisional playoffs, which still stands as Detroit’s only playoff victory since defeating the Cleveland Browns to win the 1957 NFL Championship. The Lions lost to the Washington Redskins 41–10 in the NFC Championship Game, and Sanders was held to 59 total yards in the game. In Sanders’ career, he achieved Pro Bowl status in all of his 10 seasons. Sanders was named first team All-Pro eight times from 1989–1991 and 1993–1997 and was named second team All-Pro twice in 1992 and 1998. Sanders was also named All-NFC from 1989-1992 to 1994-1997. Sanders was named Offensive Player of the Year in ’94 and ’97, NFL MVP in ’97, and was named to the 1990s NFL All-Decade team.

Sanders announced he was quitting pro football. His retirement was made public by faxing a letter to the Wichita Eagle, his hometown newspaper, on July 27, 1999. He left football healthy, having gained 15,269 rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 touchdowns (99 rushing and 10 receiving). He retired within striking distance of Walter Payton’s career rushing mark of 16,726 yards. Only Payton and Emmitt Smith have rushed for more yards than Sanders. Sanders’ retirement came somewhat unexpectedly and was a matter of controversy. Two years earlier, Sanders had renewed his contract with the Lions for $35.4 million over six years with an $11 million signing bonus. The Lions demanded that he return $5.5 million of the bonus. Sanders refused, and the Lions sued. On February 15, 2000, an arbitrator ruled that Sanders had to immediately repay $1.833 million, or one-sixth of the bonus, with the remaining bonus to be repaid over each of the three years Sanders had left on the contract provided he stayed retired. Before the ruling, Sanders offered to pay back the entire $5.5 million in return for his release from the team. The Lions refused, stating they would welcome Sanders back to the team; otherwise, they would honor his announced retirement. Sanders’ agent David Ware lobbied the team to trade his client. However, it had been a long-standing practice for the Lions to not accommodate players’ requests for trades, and other teams were reluctant to discuss Sanders while he was still under contract.



Ernie Vick (July 2, 1900 – July 16, 1980) was an American football and baseball player. He was selected as an All-American center in 1921, played on the 1926 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Born in Toledo, Ohio, Vick graduated from Toledo Scott High School. He attended the University of Michigan where he lettered four years in football (1918–1921) and two years in baseball (1921–1922). As a 180-pound freshman in 1918, Vick was permitted to play varsity football under the Students’ Army Training Corps rule in effect during World War I. He was named to a number of All-Western teams as a freshman in 1918. In 1919, owing to “the lack of backfield material” in Ann Arbor, Vick was moved to the fullback position. After being laid up with a foot blister in Michigan’s early games, Vick built a reputation as “a star line plunger” who was “fast for his weight.” In 1920, Vick was moved back to the center position, where he was Michigan’s starter in 1920 and 1921. Michigan’s Coach Fielding H. Yost said of Vick: “He is the most accurate passer from center that has ever put a ball into play. Under pressure he was dependable at all times.” Vick was named to Walter Camp’s All-American team in 1921. Camp said of Vick: “He is the only man who has throughout the season added great power and aggressiveness to steadiness and consistency.” After exception was taken by many to Camp’s selection of Vick, Michigan’s Harry Kipke wrote a column in the Lansing State Journal defending the selection.

After Vick’s selection as an All-American, newspapers across the country published articles about his unusual practice schedule. Vick enrolled in Michigan’s medical school in the fall of 1921, and the heavy load of classes and study prevented him from practicing with the team. A substitute ran through the signals at practice each night, but Vick donned his uniform and played the center position on game days. Press accounts praised Vick for “his absolute dependability in passing the ball, coupled with his almost superhuman defensive play.” It was also reported that, despite his lack of practice time, Vick “never had one minute of time taken out,” and was never “credited with a bad pass to a back field man.” Michigan’s baseball team, as a catcher, in 1921 and 1922. During Vick’s two seasons on the Michigan baseball team, they had a record of 42-10. Vick proved himself to be “a great baseball player” and was considered the best catcher in the Big Ten in 1921. At the conclusion of the 1921 season, the team voted unanimously to elect Vick as the captain of the 1922 Woverines baseball team. Vick had been set to join the St. Louis Cardinals in 1922, but opted to stay for his senior year after being selected as the team’s captain. Former Michigan baseball coach Branch Rickey had seen Vick’s ability and reportedly kept a contract ready for Vick to sign “any time he desires.” Vick ended his athletic career at Michigan with the conclusion of the baseball season in June 1922.

Vick signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and joined the team in Boston on June 5, 1922. He made his Major League debut on June 29, 1922, but spent most of the 1922 season playing for the Cardinals’ affiliate in the American Association at Syracuse. Vick batted .320 with Syracuse in 1922. In the spring of 1923, Vick played with the Houston Buffs, and did not play in any Major League games during the 1923 season. In 1924, Vick appeared in 16 games for the Cardinals and compiled a .348 batting average and .423 on-base percentage.[ After the 1925 season, columnist Billy Evans wrote that Vick was an “excellent baseball prospect,” but injuries had “kept him from proving his real worth as a big leaguer.” His most serious injury was “a badly shattered thumb” that threatened to end his career. In 1926, Vick appeared in 24 games for the Cardinals team that won the 1926 World Series. Vick was best known in baseball as the catcher for Grover Cleveland Alexander. Vick played in his last Major League game on September 25, 1926. In April 1927, Vick refused to follow the Cardinals’ orders and report to Houston in the Texas League, and was sold to Indianapolis in the American Association. In four seasons with the Cardinals, Vick appeared in 57 Major League games, compiled 26 hit and scored 12 runs.

In 1922 and 1923, Vick returned to Ann Arbor after baseball season ended. He served there as a line coach for the football team under Fielding H. Yost in 1922 and George Little in 1923. During his coaching days, Vick published an article about proper technique for centers in which he described the center as “the mainspring of the football machine.” He noted there were two ways of passing the ball to the backfield—the spiral or end-over-end. Vick wrote that he preferred the end-over-end, because he was a more accurate passer that way. In October 1925, Vick told a reporter that he loved football and enjoyed coaching, but he had decided to sever his connection with football as a means of making a living. Vick complained that the salaries paid by the western schools was insufficient to make it worthwhile. In 1925, Vick decided not to return to Ann Arbor and instead signed to play professional football with the Detroit Panthers. He played in 10 games for the Panthers in 1925. With Vick playing at center, the 1925 Panthers finished with a record of 8-2-2, allowing only 39 points on defense—2nd best in the NFL.[23] In 1927, Vick signed with George Halas’s Chicago Bears team. Vick was secured by the Bears after the Panthers fell “on the financial rocks.”[24] Vick played in 10 games for the 1927 Bears team.

In 1928, Vick split the season between the Bears and the Detroit Wolverines, playing one game for Chicago and six for Detroit. In February 1929, Vick signed a contract to serve as an umpire in the Piedmont League. And in the fall of 1929, Vick was working as a bond salesman in Michigan, but also signed up to serve as an assistant football coach under Bud Daugherty at Albion College. Vick later worked as a football official for the Big Ten Conference. He spent 22 years working games for the conference before retiring in 1953. He also officiated in baseball games and worked the Rose Bowl game and other important post-season contests. He also worked as a manufacturer’s representative before retiring in 1959. Vick died in July 1980, in Ann Arbor, Michigan


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