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On This Date in Sports December 21, 1997: Barry 2K

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With 184 yards rushing on 23 carries, Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions becomes the third member of the NFL’s 2000-yard club. Sanders finished the season with 2,053 yards with 14 touchdowns to earn a share of the NFL MVP with Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. Sanders' efforts in the season's final game help the Lions beat the New York Jets 13-10 at the Pontiac Silverdome to make the playoffs.

Barry Sanders was born in Wichita, Kansas on July 16, 1968. Attending college at Oklahoma State, Sanders set a record by rushing for 2,850 yards with 42 touchdowns in 1988 on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy. The Detroit Lions picked Barry Sanders with the third overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. His rookie season made him an instant star in Detroit as he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year by rushing for 1,470 yards with 14 touchdowns.

Barry Sanders followed up his rookie season by becoming one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL. Sanders led the NFL in rushing three times in his first eight seasons, as he topped 1,000 yards every season. Sanders' best season in his early years came in 1994 when he was named Offensive Player of the Year with 1,883 rushing yards and 2,166 All-Purpose Yards from scrimmage.

In 1997, Barry Sanders got off to a slow start rushing for just 53 yards as the Lions split their first two games against the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sanders' season got on track with a 161-yard performance against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Week 3. After topping 100 yards in his next three games, Barry Sanders got revenge on the Buccaneers in Tampa, rushing for 215 yards in Week 7. Sanders would top 200 yards again in Week 13, with 216 yards at the Silverdome against the Indianapolis Colts. Rushing for at least 137 yards in four straight games, Sanders needed 131 yards to reach 2,000 as the Lions hosted the New York Jets in the season's final game.

The Detroit Lions entered the final game of the 1997 season, holding a record of 8-7, while the New York Jets were 9-6. Each team needed a win to make the playoffs, holding destiny in their own hands. For the Jets, it was a remarkable turnaround in Bill Parcells’ first season as coach after a 1-15 season in 1996. The Lions, meanwhile, with Bobby Ross in his first season was rebounding after a 5-11 record in 1996. The Jets got off to a fast start, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter thanks partly to a 14-yard touchdown by Adrian Murrell. The Lions would chip away at the Jets' lead, with Jason Hanson kicking field goals in the second and third quarters. Still needing 51 yards to reach 2,000 yards as the fourth quarter began, Barry Sanders, with runs of nine and 15 yards, the latter for a touchdown, gave the Lions the lead 13-10. 

On the next Detroit possession, the Lions looked to run down the clock and get Sanders closer to the milestone as he carried the ball seven times for 35 to get to 1,998 yards on the season. After forcing the Jets to punt after a pair of sacks on Neil O’Donnell. The Lions got the ball back with just over two minutes left. Barry Sanders got the two yards needed for 2,000 yards on his first carry. Looking to get more and ice the game away, Sanders took the ball on more time from Scott Mitchell just before the two-minute warning and went 53 yards down to the Jets' three-yard line. It was Barry Sanders' final run of the year, finishing the season with 2,053 yards.

Barry Sanders would win his second Offensive Player of the Year award as he shared MVP honors with Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. The Lions would fall in the Wild Card round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-10. Barry Sanders would follow up his 2,000-yard season with 1,491 yards in 1998. That would be the final season of his career, as Sanders suddenly retired before the 1999 season, with 15,269 yards which ranked second all-time behind Walter Payton’s record 16,726 yards.