- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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— Joe (@Jc_1978) June 4, 2014
This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Detroit Lions history. In the next two days we'll feature: Calvin Johnson's catch between three defenders for a touchdown against Dallas, and Dan Orlovsky's infamous run out of the end zone during the winless 2008 season. Please vote for your choice as the Lion's most memorable play.
Score: Lions 38, Cowboys 6
Date: Jan. 5, 1992 Site: Pontiac Silverdome
Let’s face it. In the long, long legacy of the Detroit Lions, there are not many positive plays out there. This is a franchise to which the unexpected and unfathomable usually happens -- with negative connotations everywhere.
Yet on one day in January 1992, the Detroit Lions and their fans saw what so many other franchises in the NFL experience way more often: a playoff victory. And in this particular playoff win -- the only one in the Super Bowl era for the Lions -- the best player in franchise history did something extraordinary.
Yes, the game was somewhat wrapped up already by the time Barry Sanders touched the ball in the fourth quarter in the Silverdome, but as was true every time Sanders ran the ball, something extraordinary was potentially going to happen.
This time around, Sanders took the ball on the Dallas 47-yard line and immediately went right. He blew past one defender and ran straight into two other Cowboys. This moment, right here, is why this play is on this list. Instead of falling down or even slowing down, Sanders merely bounced back off the defenders, paused, shimmied his body a couple of times to juke without moving and waited for the hole to open. When it did, he took off again, blowing past one more Dallas defender on his way to the end zone.
The little-caught part of that play is what happened after the bounce-back shimmy juke. Dallas defensive tackle Tony Casillas swiveled his head in every direction, as if he both lost sight of Sanders and also had no idea how Sanders got past the entire Dallas defense. Detroit wide receiver Aubrey Matthews had the same reaction on the play before running upfield to follow Sanders on his dash to the end zone. This was the magic and the breath-holding nature of watching Sanders run the ball during his 10-year NFL career.
It’s why he is probably the most beloved Lions player in history. To watch Sanders run the ball was to understand that almost no one else could ever duplicate what he was doing. And this run, in the playoffs, to give his team a shot at the NFC title for the first and only time in the Super Bowl era, epitomized that.
And for the record, there are about five Sanders runs that could have made this list.