Oklahoma State’s own Barry Sanders turns fifty today. It’s still jarring to watch Sanders’ college film for so many things — things that are hard to explain at all, because the best athletes always present a kind of unsolvable problem, something that is inexplicable for everyone tasked with facing them. See: Superman-era Lakers Shaq, or Reggie White in the NFL, or Federer or Serena Williams, or any other athlete so dominant they work less like a problem, and more like a dilemma.
There are people who could tackle him, for one, which seems like a minor miracle given what a springy, temporarily immortal Barry Sanders could do with his twenty-year-old body. The scrawny quarterback handing off to him has been Oklahoma State’s coach for thirteen seasons. (Yes: At one point, Mike Gundy’s legs had to serve as a plausible deterrent on select option plays to open up room for Barry Sanders.) The twitchy shimmies and jukes: all in real time, and not sped up at any point here. He was that decisive at the nanosecond. He was that dodgy and powerful. Sanders really did do most of his work in a springing crouch somewhere about three and a half feet off the ground.
This and the Vince Wilfork high school tape are the kind of sadism we can’t help but endorse: An overwhelming force let loose on unsuspecting mortals, over and over again, without mercy or reason. The appeal of Calvinism makes sense when thought of as the humiliating highlight reel. No one thinks that God being cruel could be entertaining — and they see how easy and hilarious it can look in action.
TL;DR Happy Birthday to the running back so good we have to resort to theology to properly capture his greatness.*
*Also in this category of so good it made you think God must be a charismatic sadist: Ndamukong Suh, Derrick Thomas, Orlando Pace, Warren Sapp, David Pollack, Reggie Bush, Sean Taylor, Jonathan Ogden, Percy Harvin, Jevon Kearse, Ed Fucking Reed, Johnny Manziel, Randy Moss, Darren Sproles, Earl Campbell, and Gronk. Yes, Gronk, because even losing and getting injured at Arizona, it was obvious he was a cruel instrument of a protein shake-swilling bro-God’s will.**
**We don’t mean “Great players” here. We mean “players so overwhelmingly unfair to the opposition they seemed like divine punishment.” This is why Derrick Brooks and Roquan Smith