The Greatness of the Barry Sanders Rookie Card


If you are searching for an underrated, and sometimes forgotten football card, look no further than the Barry Sanders rookie card.

The former running back played for the Detroit Lions 10 NFL seasons and was known to be one of the most elusive runners in football. He’s a member of the NFL Football Hall of Fame and one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.

Although his playing career came to an abrupt and sudden conclusion, here’s why the Barry Sanders rookie card should not be ignored. Barry’s legacy has only increased over time. If you’ve yet to collect one for yourself, his rookie cards should be seriously considered.

Barry Sanders’ Early Life

Barry Sanders was born in Wichita, Kansas, on July 16, 1968, as one of 11 children. His father was a carpenter, and growing up, Sanders and two of his brothers learned the tools of the trade.

This early experience contributed to his hard work ethic and dedication to a craft, which would later be channeled into sports.

Growing up, Sanders was a natural athlete and loved basketball the most. However, he was shorter than the average athlete at five-foot-eight. His father convinced Sanders that he would have a better chance of winning a college scholarship if he played football.

Dominating Wichita High School Football

In his senior year, Sanders started to dominate the field, where he rushed for 1,417 yards in the season’s final games, almost setting a city record and winning him All-State and All-American honors.

Despite being a stellar athlete, he was overlooked by most college recruiters, probably due to his height, and received a few scholarships. 

Sanders would accept the offer from Oklahoma State University, where he would play special teams during his rookie year. He would be a back-up for his first two years.

OSU just happened to have Thurman Thomas, another great running back ahead of Sanders. Once Thurman Thomas moved on to his NFL career, Sanders was ready to shine.

It’s amazing to watch Barry Sanders in High School. His running style was truly unique. He had defensive players diving all over the field unable to catch number 3.

More Incredible Records at Oklahoma State University

In his junior year, Sanders was given more field time and quickly became one of the young superstars of the NCAA. He set 13 NCAA rushing records, including 2628 yards rushing, 3,248 total yards, 234 points, 39 touchdowns, 37 rushing touchdowns, 5 consecutive 200-yard games, and more.

This stellar performance would win him the Heisman Trophy, an annual award to the most outstanding college football player in the U.S.

Into the NFL Draft

Sanders decided to skip his senior year after the NCAA put the OSU Cowboys on probation and made himself eligible for the 1989 NFL Draft. Notably, four of the first five draft picks selected would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The list included quarterback Troy Aikman, linebacker Derrick Thomas, cornerback Deion Sanders, and of course, running back Barry Sanders.

Barry Sanders Pro Football Career

The Detroit Lions selected Barry Sanders as the third pick overall in the NFL draft. Despite a prior NFL rule stating that collegiate juniors could not declare for the draft, the league made an exception for the first time.

Since Oklahoma State was placed on five years’ probation for numerous NCAA violations, Sanders was allowed to declare for the NFL draft as a Junior. By the 1990 draft, the rule preventing Juniors in college from declaring for the NFL draft was officially lifted.

While Sanders would miss parts of several games in his first year, he managed to set the Lions’ season rushing record and came in just 10 yards shy of the rushing title.

While some were concerned about his size, he was able to keep a low center of gravity and eluded tacklers with complex spins and turns that would make him one of the most elusive runners in football. He would be named NFL Rookie of the Year. 

NFL Rookie of The Year

Sanders was the featured running back for the Lions throughout his fantastic football career that got them to the playoffs five times. In 1994, he rushed for 1,883 yards on a 5.7 yards per carry average.

He was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year as he broke the NFL record for most rushing yards (237 yards) in a single game without scoring a touchdown.

One of Sanders’ greatest seasons came in 1997, where he ran for an NFL record of 14 consecutive 100-yard games. He became the third player to run 2,000 yards in a single season. Sanders set an NFL record by rushing for at least 100 yards in 14 consecutive games and became the third player to reach 2,000 yards in a single season.

10 NFL Pro Bowls in 10 Seasons

Sanders shared the NFL MVP Award with Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre at the end of his last season.

In all ten of his NFL seasons, Sanders achieved Pro Bowl status. Still, despite the incredible stats he produced, the Lions played in zero Super Bowls during Barry’s career.

To this day, many people still make the case that Barry Sanders was the greatest running back of all time.

Barry Sanders Football Rookie Cards

The 1989 Barry Sanders Score rookie card with the green border is a rookie card valued highly. A PSA 10 Gem Mint card can land you anywhere between $650 to several thousand dollars on eBay and features a young Sanders smiling at the camera.

PSA reports a population of 1,930 GEM Mint perfect 10 rated Barry Sanders Score rookie cards. While the PSA 10 rookie card is not exactly rare, I would argue that it should be a staple for any serious collector. It’s hard to imagine a PSA 10 Barry Sanders rookie won’t be a great card for many decades to come.

1989 Barry Sanders Score Card with Green Borders

1989 Score Barry Sanders rookie card
The most popular Barry Sanders rookie card

The 1989 Pro Set Rookie Card with a red border is the cheapest rookie card featuring Barry Sanders. This set of rookie cards features Sanders in his white Oklahoma State college football jersey with red pants, dashing with football in hand.

A Pro Set Barry Sanders rookie card PSA 10 Gem Mint can land you anywhere between $165 to $500. The overproduction of the 1989 Pro Set cards attributes to the low prices for the Sanders rookie, although I would still consider it one of my personal favorite football cards.

1989 Barry Sanders Pro Set Card, GEM Mint PSA 10

1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders rookie card
The 1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders RC

1989 Police Oscar Mayer Detroit Lions Barry Sanders

Low Pop Rookie cards of Barry Sanders

1989 Barry Sanders Rookie Card Topps Traded Football

topps traded barry sanders rookie
Barry Sanders Topps Traded Rookie Card RC PSA

Learn more about the rookie cards of two all-time great running backs –

The Case for Bo Jackson Rookie Cards

Beyond the Walter Payton Rookie Card


Barry Sanders Retirement

In 1998, Sanders unexpectedly retired from football. He announced in a press release:

“The reason I am retiring is simple, my desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it. I have searched my heart through and through and feel comfortable with this decision.” 

At the end of his career, he had 15,269 rushing yards, the highest total rushing yards ever by any NFL player in 10 years, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he retired just 1,400 yards short of Walter Payton’s rushing record.

Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2005, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. In 2019, Sanders was included in the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team as one of the greatest all-time running backs. He joined fellow Hall of Fame running backs such as Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, and Emmitt Smith.

Find a Barry Sanders Rookie Card Today

While Sanders’ career seemed to end prematurely, there’s no doubt he retired at the top of his game. Something that’s rarely achieved by the game’s greats.

He will go down in history as one of the NFL’s best running backs of all time. His impressive performance on the football field in the 1990s and his humble demeanor throughout his life show why his football rookie cards are highly valued.

If you don’t have a Barry Sanders rookie card yet, I’d recommend adding to your wish list.


Barry Sanders was one of the greatest running backs in the world, but that’s not what made him unique. His incredible humbleness as a teammate and as a person makes Barry Sanders a all time legend in my book.


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