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Barry Sanders (True) Rookie Cards

With the 3rd overall pick of the 1st Round in the 1989 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Barry Sanders from Oklahoma State University. He has three official rookie cards with zero parallels.

Barry Sanders Shocking High School Career

The football story of Barry Sanders starts in high school. However, the only thing to really tell you about Barry and his high school career is that he was a nobody.

An average kid playing high school football is all. He wasn’t labeled a football prodigy or an elite prospect. In fact, he wasn’t even the starting running back until the fourth game of his senior year.

After high school, there were only three colleges interested in Barry. He chose Oklahoma State University (Go Cowboys!) but even in college, he had to play second string running back to another NFL Hall of Famer, Thurman Thomas.

But entering his senior year in college, after Thomas departed via the NFL Draft in 1988, it left the starting position all to Barry Sanders. And he made the most of it! Doing what many claim to be the greatest running back performance in college history.

He demolished just about every record known to the running back position and those records still stand today. Needless to say,  he went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1988.

Barry’s Desire to Exit the Game

The result of his success in 1988 opened the door to an NFL opportunity. Between 1989-1998 he was the greatest running back the NFL has ever seen! He nearly surpassed the All-Time Rushing Leader, Walter Payton in 10 years what took Payton 15 years to accomplish.

Barry just needed one more season to be the new All-Time Rushing Leader. But then…. he retired! Wait. What?! He was only 30 years old and in excellent shape.

He was in the early years of a big contract and would leave about $20 million dollars on the table! So how can he just retire?!

On July 25, 1999, instead of reporting to camp Barry booked a flight to London, England and from there he faxed a letter announcing his retirement to The Wichita Eagle which was his hometown newspaper. In that letter he stated,

“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.” 

The Sports World Shocked and Shook!

This news shocked the NFL world and it rocked the world of the Detroit Lions. After that Barry just faded away. For a few years, there were rumors of a comeback but it never surfaced and so Barry Sanders just faded further away.

For many years nobody really knew what happened, much speculation but nothing concrete. It just didn’t make any sense.

Many tried to put the pieces of this puzzle together but then in 2003 Barry Sanders and Mark McCormick published a book, “Now You See Him” in which Barry tells his story in his own words.

The Truth About Barry Sanders Retirement 

So why did he really do it? To understand fully we must first understand the character and personality of Barry Sanders. It’s been said that he is generous, easy-going and most of all humble.

He didn’t care about records, trophies or the spotlight. He was always an All-Star athlete with multi-million dollar contracts and was criticized once for buying a used car with 38k miles on it. That was just how Barry was, very low key.

Walking away from the game of football when he was just a season away from football immortality all came down to the fact that the Lions were just a really bad team.

In the 10 years that he played for the Lions, they were always a losing team and management had no interest in putting together a winning team. This realization trivialized everything to him.

Barry goes on to explain, that he didn’t want to take shots at people so he opted to retire and thank them for giving him the opportunity to play.

Today, all is forgiven and in the last few years Barry has been more open to attending games and has even accepted the honor of being a Detroit Lions Ambassador and he represents the team in many facets throughout the year.

Career Stats & Accomplishments

10 Year Career Numbers: Games 153 | Rushing Attempts 3,062 | Rushing Yards 15,269 (Ranks 4th All-Time) | Touchdowns 99.

  • 10x Pro-Bowler
  • 6x All-Pro
  • 1x MVP
  • 1989 Rookie of the Year

1989 Pro Set, #494 (RC)

This premier Pro Set release was offered to collectors in three series. The Barry Sanders RC (above) can be found in Series 2 packs. The bright red border with white stripes goes nicely with the Oklahoma State uniform.

The diagonal green “No. 1 Pick” designation represents Pro Sets’ number one pick, not the NFL’s. Sanders was drafted 3rd in the 1st Round of the 89 NFL Draft. The No. 1 Draft Pick that year was none other than Troy Aikman.

Nice Draft Day photo with head coach Wayne Fontes and lots of good commentaries highlight the back of the card. There are no parallels for this set.

1989 Score, #257 (RC)

Another premier set in 1989 was the forever popular Score Football. The chase for this set was pretty intense as collectors were drawn to it mainly for its great rookie class, high-quality card stock, and great design.

This fantastic portrait of Barry is framed out in green borders along with “rookie” designation and team helmet. Ditto on the card back except much bigger, player bio and commentary are also given.

Overall a solid card and among his three rookie cards this one is the most sought after among collectors. There are no parallels in this set.

1989 Topps Traded, #83T (RC)

Topps Traded is an extension of the regular Topps flagship release. They mimic the flagship in every way and its sole purpose is to show players who have been traded and showcase them in their new uniforms -or- to include any rookies they may have been left out.

I really like the design of the card front. Clean, simple white border with green and red stripes highlight it well. But the photo used for the card front is unique, to say the least.

Some collectors love it and others hate it that portion is entirely up to you. Card back has me scratching my head a bit, no photo, odd design, and awful colors. There are no parallels for this set either.

The Term “Junk Wax Era” Amplified

I’ve written about this topic before but please entertain me for a moment. I’m old school but I’m also open-minded to change so long as it’s logical.

But what rubs my fur the opposite way is the term, “Junk Wax Era” (1986-1993) I find it disrespectful, especially when someone younger says it. You weren’t involved in the hobby back then how can you make such a statement!?

Our modern-day cards are an evolution of that era. Just because there were no Silver Prizm, on-card autograph, serial-numbered to /99 doesn’t mean it’s ALL junk! [emphasis mine] Fun Fact: on-card autograph’s made their debut in the hobby in 1991, at the peak of the Junk Wax Era.

I think it is logical to say it was a “Mass Produced Era” that would make more sense but to refer to it as junk? C’mon, Man!

Hypothetically Speaking

Imagine if you will, it’s the year 2046. There is a person born in the year 2025 and they now refer to ALL [emphasis mine] sports cards from the 2020s to be “Hype Era” or the “Don’t Believe the Hype Era” the term is catchy and it goes viral on the 1,812 social media platforms available and walla, a mindset is born.

The truth about the “Junk Wax Era” is, there are some diamonds in the rough if we take the time to educate ourselves. Also, do you want scarcity? Try to find gem mint copies of this era. Send in the best copies you can find and submit them to the third party grader of your choice. I wish you all the best with it.

Likewise, I guess, what I’m asking you to do is put yourself in someone else’s shoes and realize that it won’t be long and you’ll be wearing those same shoes.

Please don’t think I’m an old Fuddy Duddy, I love the new stuff, I collect modern-day players too! My desire is that all collectors would respect and find value in all era’s of sportscard collecting.

Happy Collecting, Collectors

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.

Barry Sanders Stats | (accessed December 1, 2019).