Detroit Lions’ Barry Sanders, going from record-setting collegian to sensational NFL rookie, was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press today.
In balloting by 70 sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league, Sanders was a near-unanimous choice with 69 votes. Wide receiver Andre Rison of Indianapolis received the other vote.
Sanders, who rushed for 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns--both NCAA records--in winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State in 1988, was the third selection in last April’s NFL draft. He held out through training camp, but it did not slow him at all.
He led the NFC with 1,470 yards, just 10 behind league leader Christian Okoye of Kansas City. On Wednesday, Sanders and Okoye were named to the AP All-Pro team.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Sanders said. “But it is really an indication of how our offense played as a whole.
“I didn’t feel at a disadvantage by missing training camp. I missed a little hitting. That didn’t pose many disadvantages at all as far as the offense. I was able to learn as I went along, week to week.”
So, apparently, did the Lions, who won their final five games to escape last place in the NFC Central. Their run ‘n’ shoot attack got going in the second half of the season, thanks greatly to Sanders.
“That’s the best way to go,” he said.
“Of course, we want to progress each year, and that is something we will be shooting for. I know the team would like to improve the record and make it a winning ball club.
“I would have liked for our record to be better. We certainly proved that we are a good team in the second half of the season.”
Sanders proved he could carry a rushing attack by himself. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry and scored 14 touchdowns.
He probably could have passed Okoye’s total, but Sanders sat out much of the second half in Detroit’s rout of Atlanta on Sunday.
“It wasn’t a goal of mine,” he said of leading the league in rushing. “I didn’t set any statistical goals. I didn’t have any particular mark.
“My feelings were that the game was over and there was no need to play any more. People are going to take it differently. Some will respond negatively and some will respond positively. I wasn’t trying to send any particular message.”
Sanders broke the Lions’ rookie rushing record, set by Billy Sims, who also followed his Heisman Trophy season by winning NFL rookie of the year honors. Sims was one of Sanders’ idols, but he claimed that such personal achievements are no big deal.
“A lot of individual accomplishments don’t mean much if the team is successful,” he said. “If there was something that I wanted my teammates to feel, that would be it.”