One of the most exciting running back battles from the 1990s that few people talk about was the one between Barry Sanders and Warrick Dunn.
Two of the most electric players at their position in the league would routinely square off given the Detroit Lions brief division rivalry with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the old NFC Central division. During that era, there were plenty of high scoring games and exciting moments. It seemed the dynamic runners routinely tried to one-up each other with big plays and big moments on the field.
While Sanders’ battle with Emmitt Smith for league supremacy at the same time routinely got the bigger headlines, it was always clear that the battles between the Lions and Buccaneers had a tiny bit of extra spice because of the running backs. And if Dunn ended up being great himself during that time, Sanders has plenty to do with that.
“I was in awe watching him. I looked forward to playing against him because he challenged me. I would ask myself if I thought I could outplay him every chance I had. He helped me play harder and better,” Dunn recently said when speaking with Heavy.com in an interview.
While the highlights and stats remained decidedly in the favor of Sanders, Dunn’s team got the better of Sanders more than a few times on the field during that era, especially considering the team’s 1997 battle in the playoffs. That day, as a rookie, Dunn out-rushed Sanders 72 yards to 65 yards and Tampa Bay pulled out a 20-10 win. Safe to say that was a big highlight for the young runner.
Warrick Dunn Stats
One of the hidden gems of the 1990s was Dunn, who was quietly phenomenal on the field. Selected in the 1997 draft with the No. 12 pick out of Florida State, Dunn would quickly become a mainstay in Tampa Bay. From 1997-2001, Dunn was a two time Pro Bowl player and the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
After his career in Tampa Bay, Dunn went on to the Atlanta Falcons for five seasons before finishing back with the Buccaneers in 2008. In his career, he amassed 10,967 yards and scored 49 rushing touchdowns.
Against the Lions, Dunn always felt at home running the ball. He racked up 848 rushing yards and 8 total touchdowns against Detroit in his career.
Barry Sanders Stats
To see Sanders run the ball for Lions fans through the years was to believe given what he was able to do with the team on the field. Sanders routinely had the quickness and deft ability to break plenty of ankles on the football field and remains one of the greatest highlights in the game fans love watching even years after his retirement. Athleticism is something that came naturally to Sanders, no matter whether he was on the grass or the hardwood, something that was revealed recently.
With the Lions, Sanders rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns. He was routinely thought of as the best running back in the league, and would have shattered plenty of NFL rushing records had he decided to keep playing. Sanders, however, walked away from the game in 1999 on the eve of training camp, which stunned the Lions and all of their fans. The parties then went through a frustrating split for multiple years, based mostly upon the fact that the franchise made him pay back part of his contract amid retirement. It is a situation not unlike what is happening with Calvin Johnson currently.
Sanders and Dunn are two of the classier athletes to ever suit up in the NFL when they did, and it’s nice to hear their battles were quite motivating for years.
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