5 greatest what-ifs in NFL history

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
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Biggest NFL what-ifs: What if Barry Sanders’ team weren’t awful?

Barry Sanders’ Tecmo Bowl character is known for being the greatest player in the history of football video games, and the real Sanders was just as extraordinary.

He amassed 15,269 rushing yards across 10 seasons, meaning he literally averaged more than 1,500 rushing yards per season. Sanders averaged 5.0 yards per carry over the duration of his career, leading the league in rushing four times and earning first-team, All-Pro honors on six occasions.

Sanders’ dominance over a decade is almost incomprehensible, and he is still widely regarded as the greatest running back in history.

Yet despite being one of the best players to ever grace the game, Sanders never made it to the Super Bowl. In his 10 seasons, which were all spent with the Detroit Lions, Sanders made the playoffs in only half of them. Perhaps more frustratingly, the Lions made it out of the Wild Card round in just four of those five postseason appearances.

Sanders had to deal with one of the worst supporting casts ever. Despite his gaudy rushing totals and remarkable efficiency, Sanders played behind a notoriously woeful offensive line.

The quarterback situation was even worse in Detroit, as Sanders’ signal-callers were a revolving door of sub-2,000 yard passers in Rodney Peete, Bob Gagliano, Erik Kramer, and Dave Krieg until Scott Mitchell arrived. Even Mitchell wasn’t a great solution, as he surpassed an 80.0 QB Rating in only one of his seasons with the Lions.

Sanders retired at the end of the 1998 season despite rushing for 1,491 yards, leaving the game while still at the peak of his powers. He could no longer keep running his body into the ground for an incompetent organization that was going nowhere.

In a final act of disgrace, the Lions organization asked Sanders to return a portion of his guaranteed earnings after his retirement. Imagine how great Sanders’ career achievements would have been with less ghoulish management and a legitimate supporting cast.