As a product of the early 80’s, I don’t have the same memories of the Chicago Bears that many fans have. I don’t recall the 1963 Championship team nor do I remember the 1985 Bears, other than through stories my father told me as a young child.
I don’t have any memories of Walter Payton playing. My memories of Payton started with my mother turning down a scholarship to St. Viator High School, where I would have blocked for Jarrett Payton. A few years later was the Miami announcement, then the announcement of primary sclerosing cholangitis.
All this is to say that the first Bears running back I remember watching was Neal Anderson. But as a young fan, you don’t always appreciate greatness while you are watching it. I didn’t appreciate Michael Jordan, I took him for granted. But basketball has never resonated with me like football has.
There was one player though, who every time I watched him play, my jaw would drop. Even the when he lost a yard or two, he was electric. I may not have had the proper appreciation but I knew that what I was watching was special.
Who was this special player you may ask? Well, his name is Barry Sanders. The greatest running back in my lifetime. The single most exciting player I have watched until Devin Hester’s rookie season.
He is the opposing player that I respect above all others, not only for his immense talent but for the way he played. The only opposing player that I would ever consider buying his jersey and wear it proudly.
Sanders’ 1997 season was epic. He torched the Bears early on in that season, and I will never forget that 3-touchdown game on Thanksgiving. He was special. The way he could change direction was the envy of any athlete. His balance was on par with the greatest dancers. He could outrun former sprinters. He was small, but strong like a mini Bo Jackson. Sanders truly had the heart of a lion.
The thing I remember most about Sanders is something that you often hear about Payton. He always did it with class. I never saw him “show-up” and opponent or dance in the endzone. He just did his job.
As quickly as he burst onto the scene, he was gone. He went out on his own terms and with plenty left in the tank. I respect that about him, although I was disappointed to see him retire.
Barry Sanders is my most-respected opposing player of all-time, who are yours?
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