by | Nov 24, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Sunday was bound to be a hard day in show business, at least as far as the Lions were concerned. The Michigan Wolverines had, the day before, won a trip to the Rose Bowl and a No. 1 national ranking. The whole state was buzzing maize and blue. Fans were making plans for California, arguing college football polls. And here were the Lions, one game under .500, hosting the lowly Indianapolis Colts, a team with all the star power of the Weather Channel.

How do you compete? What entertainment option can you offer?

I’ll give you a hint. It begins with a B and it ends with a Y.

And I don’t mean botany.

I mean Barry, as in Sanders, who on his good days is enough to make you forget maize, blue, lavender, yellow, ochre, peach and turquoise. And this was one of his good days. This would be a record-setting day. You sensed that in the first quarter, when Barry squirted through the line and took off 51 yards down the sideline.

“He’s like an earthquake,” quarterback Scott Mitchell would later say. “He can explode at anytime. Then eight seconds pass and you wonder what just happened.”

By halftime, the little earthquake had 97 yards. And lest anyone think of leaving the Silverdome early, on the first play of the second half, Sanders ran through blocks by Juan Roque and David Sloan and 80 zooming yards later was in the end zone, outrunning even the fastest members of the Colts’ defense.

Let me tell you something about that play. Kevin Glover, the Lions center, ran 50 yards while Barry was running 80 — which is about the right ratio, given their sizes — and the whole time Glover was running he was shaking his fist at Barry’s back and yelling, “Go! Go!” Linemen don’t have to do this. Many lineman can’t do this. Many linemen would do this and need intravenous fluids afterward.

“I just get so excited when he runs, I forget about how tired I’m gonna be,” Glover said. “Besides, I’m not gonna be playing with him forever. I have to get a good view of him while I can.”

He can’t go on forever — can he?

Isn’t that true for all of us? The only disappointment there has ever been with Sanders is the back-of-the-mind knowledge that he won’t be here forever.

But while he’s here, he is the surest bet in Detroit sports. You want to buy a ticket for a game and know that, win or lose, you’ll see something at least momentarily spectacular? Starts with a B ends with a Y.

And I don’t mean butchery.

Sunday’s contest, which had all the markings of a stinker (the Colts were 1-10, the Lions 5-6) instead turned into something historic, thanks to Barry. He finished with 216 yards, the 10th game in a row that he’s gone over 100. No running back has ever done that in a single season. Not Franco Harris. Not Emmitt Smith. Not Walter Payton. Not Jim Brown. No one. Ten in a row. Over 100 yards.

“Why do you think you’ve been able to do it?” someone asked Sanders after the Lions’ victory.

“Well,” he said, “a lot of things have to go right for you.”

Mostly, you have to be Barry Sanders.

Let’s face it. There are few players who can make the 80-yard runs he can, and no one in the game who can make the five-yard runs he can. There were several of those little miracles Sunday. You know the kind I’m talking about. He jukes one way, twists the other, changes his mind, curls back, loses one guy, loses another, slips a tackle and generally has the whole opposing team chasing him as if he’s a greased horse.

“Do you ever look at film and laugh at how the defenders miss you?” he was asked.

“Not really,” Sanders said, “when you’re out there, it’s pretty dangerous. I figure it’s either me or them.”

Most of the time, it’s him.

The little earthquake.

Just give thanks that he’s a Lion

Now, it’s fair to point out that the Lions were playing Indianapolis, and these Colts are not exactly the Johnny Unitas variety. I know Detroit’s defensive linemen are improving, but when they get eight sacks, you’re not talking about beating the Seven Blocks of Granite. Maybe the Seven Blocks of Styrofoam.

Still, this was an important win. And with Thanksgiving this week, and Chicago coming to town, the Lions could go from sub-.500 to over-.500 in four days.

Even that doesn’t compare to what Barry is pulling off. He’s had three runs of 80 yards or more this season. And while some critics say 80-yard runs are not as impressive as they sound, if they’re so easy, how come everybody isn’t making them?

“It’ll end one day,” Sanders said of his streak. “Statistics are nice, but they don’t tell the whole story.”

No. They don’t tell how, in the first two weeks of this season, Barry had two subpar performances, and people actually wondered if he had lost a step.

Right. And Brad Pitt’s a nerd.

Barry’s fine. He’s more than fine. He’s on a roll of historic proportions. And, most impressively, for three hours on Sunday, he made the activity of a
.500 football team seem every bit as important as a college football championship. He stole everyone’s attention.

Earthquakes do that to you.

Mitch Albom will sign “Tuesdays with Morrie” 7-8 p.m. Tuesday at B Dalton, Macomb Mall, Roseville; 10-11 a.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble, Bloomfield Hills; and 1-2 p.m. Saturday at B Dalton, Twelve Oaks Mall, Novi. To leave a message for him, call 1-313-223-4581.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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