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Barry Sanders Speaks on Similarities, Differences in Comparison to Emmitt Smith

It’s a debate that will probably go in until the end of time. Who was the better running back? Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith? Sanders entered the NFL in 1989 and Smith came a year later, and almost instantly the two were compared to each other as they were considered the two best at their position.

Sanders finished with 15,269 yards which is the fourth-highest total in NFL history, while Smith has the record with 18,355 yards.

The Detroit Lions favorite son made an appearance on 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday. The Hall of Famer was asked about how his career compared and differed from Smith, and his answer was intriguing.

“Oh, wow. We were different in that I probably could have used a few more Nate Newton’s in front of me,” Sanders said.

Newton was a six-time Pro Bowl guard in the 1990s. Sanders also mentioned he could’ve used five-time Pro Bowl center Mark Stepnoski as well as Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, who are both in the Hall of Fame.

Sanders went into more detail about how he and Smith compared to each other.

“I think we’re both kind of shifty in our own way,” Sanders said. “Emmitt was probably a little more patient as a runner. It’s funny because I was hearing about Emmitt Smith when I was in high school. He was highly touted, one of the nation’s top players. So, it was just cool for me to end up being his nemesis, or adversary, or thought of as the top running back in the league along with him. But I think there are a lot of similarities between us, being that kind of slippery, elusive guy, that can hit a home run from anywhere on the field.”

Sanders retired after the 1998 season. He made the Pro Bowl and was selected as an All-Pro in each of his 10 seasons. He led the NFL in rushing four times (three times in his final five seasons) and was named league MVP in 1997 when he rushed for 2,053 yards.

Smith played 15 seasons in the NFL (13 with the Cowboys). He made eight Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro. Smith led the league in rushing four times also. He won three Super Bowls (was named MVP in Super Bowl XXVIII) and was named league MVP in 1993. In addition to being the all-time leading rusher, he also holds the record for rushing attempts (4,409) and rushing touchdowns (164).

Both of these great runners were consistent in their dominance. Sanders, along with fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, are the only running backs in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of their first 10 seasons. Smith, however, holds the NFL record for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with 11 (1991-2001).

What’s unique about Sanders and Smith is their admiration for each other. In 2011, Sanders was asked if he was better than Smith and he took a very humble approach to the question.

“I would never say that,” Sanders said. “He was too great of a player, and I loved competing against him.” Sanders later said on Twitter that he appreciates the debate people have between the two and added some more glowing praise on his rival.

“He is #1 on all the time list and trust me-the guy deserves it. You can say he played on great teams… but he made those teams great,” Sanders said.

Smith responded to what Sanders said a day later, and gave him the ultimate compliment.

“Heard about what Barry Sanders said…so very flattered but he should know I think he’s the best of all time,” Smith said.

You can make the argument that Sanders and Smith are the two best running backs of all-time. They will forever be linked just based on their production and playing in the same era. Regardless of who you think is better, football fans worldwide were blessed to watch these two run the football.

What do you think?

Matthew Lenix

Written by Matthew Lenix

I write dope stuff about the Dallas Cowboys and what not.

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  1. Ole Barry makes a good point about having a Nate Newton or Mark Stepnoski in front of him! I remember that he came to Texas Stadium on I believe a Monday night and our defense literally could not even touch him much less tackle him! He was a special talent but if I would have to do a lot of research before picking him over ES!

  2. Not nuff said…Barry a a good offensive line not great but good. With 2 pro-bowlers in Kevon Glover and Nomas Brown a 4,000 yard passer in Scott Mitchell and a. 1,000 yard receiver and a 1,500 yard receiver in Herman Moore. Emmit had a horrible offensive line in Dallas the last 4 years with the Cowboys as he got older so Emmit could and did earn his own yards. That being said I still consider Barry a little bit better than Emmit. Most people don’t know that Barry played all 4 years in college at Oklahoma State he is 3 years older than Emmit that is one reason why Barry retired in his prime in addition with his frustration with post season loses with the Lions.

  3. The problem is everyone says Barry needed a line. He never trusted his line. And Emmitt never had his line his whole career. Watch the highlights. Barry was great in the open. Emmitt used his vision and would squeeze through where there was no hole. Barry only ran through holes big enoughfor a semi. On goal line they pulled Barry for that reason. He didn’t get short yards or goalline carries.

  4. Only in your dreams. Meanwhile Barry and his team top 2 wr did so well against Green bay during the regular season back 1993-95 season and had what a minus 19 yards rushing. One thing with Emmitt he always did well for his team. And ask yourself why did they pull Barry in so many redzone /goalline situations? And Emmitt was almost always use in those situations. The proof is in the pudding and Emmitt never had his father go tell his GM that he was quitting his team.

  5. Barry by a mile. If he played 5 more years averaging 1600 a yr he smokes Emitts record by a good 3000 yards or more. Emmitt had way better O-Lines and QBs and receivers. Defensive players had to focus on more than just Emmitt. Lbs played off the line to protect against they TEs and Irvin. Barry they stacked the line and played all the way up and every teams game play centered on stopping Barry. Barrys cut backs are once in a lifetime. Way more elusive than Emmitt.

  6. Ur comparing apples and oranges. They were different type runners but both were great. Emmitt played his best in big games and has the hardware.

    BUT- now as to who was by far the most dynamic/explosive/elusive/fun to watch RB in history? Hard to find one better than Barry Sanders. Maybe that murdering SOB OJ Simpson or if ur old school Gale Sayers.

  7. There’s been MANY GREAT RBs in the past as you’ve pointed out some Gary B , there’s also Walter Payton aka Sweetness , Eric Dickerson , LT , Earl Campbell , Bo Jackson , Marcus Allen , Jim Brown , and another one of our Cowboys Backs , Tony Dorsett , it just depends on preference as far as who was greatest , each RB was great in their own way whether you like speed the Bo Jackson is your man along with others i named off or if you like power running the can’t beat Earl Campbell , or if you like elusiveness then there’s Sanders , WP , ED , MA and TD , it’s all about preference , me personally my favorite back to watch highlights of out of all of these is Earl Campbell , he was like playing defense on offense at RB , he wanted to hit you , liked it even , incredible to watch but that’s just me

  8. I’m a Lifetime Cowboys fan and I grew up watching both guys in the 90s, but Barry never had a o-line, a d by fat never had the team around him that Emmet did.When I say Barry never had an oline he never had 1 decent lineman…If Barry was to w
    Seirch teams with Emmet , Emmer wouldn’t have been shit and Barty would have had multiple 2000 yard seasons and in my opinion would have hit somewhere close to 20,000 yards….Barry was a baaaad man, he won games single handedly.. watch his tape. He his the most elusive of all time

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