Dallas Cowboys Fans Have a Favorite Debate

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Happen upon a Dallas Cowboys forum, and at some point you are likely to find a spirited debate about who was better, Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders. Last week in my article I made an off handed comment laughing at the idea of Barry being a better player than Emmitt. I felt it would be fun this week before players report to Training Camp in Oxnard, California to defend my “Pfft.” I won’t have an opportunity to do so once football is real again.

Let me begin by saying that I am possibly Barry Sanders’ harshest critic. I am not delusional. He was an exciting player, perhaps one of the most exciting to ever play the game. However, I am being serious when I tell you, that under no circumstance would I ever want Barry Sanders on my football team. In fact, I often say there are at least twenty Running Backs I would take over Barry Sanders. Is that silly of me? In the minds of some people I am sure it is. Allow me to defend my position.

Nov 6, 2011; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys former running back Emmitt Smith greets head coach Jason Garrett during halftime from the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Seahawks 23-13. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There is no denying Barry Sanders’ big play ability. He was capable of things other RBs simply cannot do, except maybe Gale Sayers. My problem with Barry Sanders lies in the fact that he tried to do those big plays so often that he far too often handicapped his team.

I was a Fullback, and there is no greater feeling for a FB than having your lead block open a hole for the RB to hit. The Detroit Lions rarely used a FB. The main reason for this was Barry did not hit holes. He danced around, making people miss until he could break free. Not going to lie, that drove me crazy. It was exciting, no doubt, but it drove me nuts. Give me a RB who is going to try to move forward over a ballerina any day of the week.

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  • Collin


  • Mike

    So….Barry inherited the run and shoot offense in 1989 after smashing virtually every NCAA single season rushing record the year before…behind a fullback.

    Barry played behind a fullback (Tommy Vardell) for the first time in his NFL career in 1997…and rushed for 2,053 yards. The next year (his last) he played in a 2 back set and “dropped off dramatically”…rushing for a “mere”1,491 yards. That’s “pretty good”.

    Keep it up, though. Keep perpetuating that myth that Barry was ALWAYS looking for the big play and would routinely give up 3 yarders for the chance to break one for 60. The truth is, Barry picked up a lot of 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 yard gains….when he SHOULD HAVE lost 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 yards. You see the 60 and 70 yarders on YouTube…unless you have the tapes or watched Sanders during his career, you may not remember him breaking 3 tackles on a busted play to turn minus 3 into minus 1.

    Saying you’d take twenty backs over Barry Sanders shows just how objective you are.

    • Rowdy Yates

      Thank you! Barry wasn’t necessarily always looking for the big play, he was looking to move the ball forward. When he moved the ball forward, often he was able to make the big play happen. Because he COULD make everyone miss, that’s what he did. No running back before or after had the gift that Barry had. The NFL has seen a lot of great running backs, and you could replace Emmitt Smith with just about any of them and they would produce the same results on the field. That’s not taking anything from Emmitt, because he is one of the greats, but Barry was a truly a one-of-a-kind talent.

  • Rowdy Yates

    Wrong! I gave the author the benefit of the doubt until he questioned Barry’s ‘heart’. Emmitt was glad Barry retired, because if he hadn’t Barry would have the records, and this debate wouldn’t exist. For the record though, I think this debate is pretty stupid. Even though they were both RB’s, this is an apples and oranges comparison. They were very different players, as the author notes, but the difference wasn’t in the players’ hearts. Emmitt couldn’t do the things Barry did, and Barry couldn’t do the things Emmitt did. Barry is a small guy, Emmit, while not a huge guy, was bigger and had more power. And the Lions’ coaches didn’t let Barry do some of the great things he was capable of, like leaping over a pile in a goal-line or short yardage situation. The Lions offense was designed to keep Barry from getting hit – to play to his strengths. It didn’t always work, but Barry didn’t really get hurt, which is why he was able to make the most out of his 10 years in the NFL, especially when you consider that he played for the Lions. Unfortunately the Barry years are only thing a Lions fan has in recent history to remember fondly. Dallas fans will never understand. I can watch Barry Sanders’ highlights all day and never get bored. I can watch Barry Sanders lose yards all day never get bored. Emmitt Smith wasn’t so exciting, as the author fairly notes. I’d take Barry over Emmitt in a minute, but that doesn’t change the fact they were both great players and class-act guys.