From “Tecmo Super Bowl” to “Madden 2000,” Barry Sanders has long been considered one of the greatest virtual athletes of all time.
Add “NCAA Football 13” to the list, as Barry not only stands alongside Robert Griffin III on the cover, but according to the EA Sports website, looks like a lock to be included in the new Heisman Challenge mode that will give fans “the ability to utilize the skill set of a legendary Heisman Trophy winner in a quest to match his award-winning historical performances and win the Heisman Trophy once again.”
And while 2,628 yards rushing and 39 touchdowns in a season might sound like stats straight out of a video game, it’s the type of accomplishment that helped Sanders become an all-time great, both in real life and on the pixilated fields of Nintendo.
“People remind me how high I was rated and how difficult I was to tackle in ‘Tecmo Bowl,’ and that’s always fun,” says Sanders. “It is really cool that I was such an amazing virtual athlete. You could always go back and show your kids what you did in a video game.”
We recently spoke with Sanders to get his thoughts on the new game, RG3 and more:
Jon Robinson: What does it mean to you that after all these years, you’re still such a fan favorite that you won the “NCAA Football 13” cover vote against the likes of Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie?
Barry Sanders: It’s amazing and very meaningful to me. It means so much to me to be the winner among so many former Heisman winners. All of these guys had such terrific careers, both college and pro, so for me to win the “NCAA Football 13” cover vote is really an honor, especially since I get to share the cover with Robert Griffin III. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Jon Robinson: When you watch Robert Griffin III play, what do you think of his prospects as a pro?
Barry Sanders: I think you definitely have to give an extra nod to these kids who come from programs where they’re not surrounded by great players. They stand out, they put up numbers, and they raise the level like we haven’t really seen in Baylor football. I think a lot of that you can attribute to him. A lot of cases, kids like that turn out to be better pros than you’d expect. Sky is the limit with this kid, and I just hope they get him some help as soon as they can, wherever he goes, but I think he has some great skills that will transfer well to the NFL.
Jon Robinson: “NCAA Football 13” is Heisman-themed this year. Where does winning the Heisman rank among your career accomplishments?
Barry Sanders: It may be at the very top. That’s really where my life changed. You can look at everything from pre-Heisman to post-Heisman, and I think that’s why it ranks up at the top, because before then, I didn’t even think I was good enough to be a professional ballplayer. I sat behind Thurman Thomas for my first couple of years, then my first year starting I won the Heisman. After I won the Heisman, that’s when things changed as far as going to the NFL. The Heisman is the biggest award I’ve ever won.
Jon Robinson: One cool thing about “NCAA 13” is you’re on the cover and your son’s team is in the game. Who are you going to play as more in the game, Oklahoma State or Stanford?
Barry Sanders: [Laughs] I think both teams will get plenty of play in this house, absolutely. Prior to this year, we were heavy on the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but now this year, we need to split between the two teams. I’m looking forward to this season. It’s going to be fun.
Jon Robinson: For all those Stanford fans out there who are looking forward to watching your son play this year, what type of back should they expect to see?
Barry Sanders: I don’t want to get too detailed into it, but when you’re a good high school running back, you can almost be whatever type of runner you want to be. If you’re a good size and a good athlete, you can be whatever type of runner you want. In college, you have to decide. In looking at the kind of skills he has -- he has good speed, good size at 5-11, 190 or so with a good 40 time and good lateral movement -- and then looking at the kind of program they have out there, the way they run the ball and make it a priority, it’s kind of a throwback to when I was in college. That’s the part of it I’m excited about. He’s at a great institution, and then on the field, even last year when they had the greatest college player in Andrew Luck, they still made it a priority to run the ball, and they’re going to continue to do that. I just hope they make him look good out there.
Jon Robinson: One of the things I always like to do when I play video games is to try to break all of the real-life records with one of my created players. Out of all of your accomplishments in college, which stat will be the toughest for me to match? The 39 touchdowns or the 2,638 yards rushing?
Barry Sanders: Wow, to beat 2,600 yards rushing might be a challenge, but it sounds like you play enough and have some skills, so I’m sure you’ll do fine.
Jon Robinson: When you think back on your college football days, do you have a favorite moment that stands out in your mind?
Barry Sanders: To me, there are a lot of them, but what really stands out for me are really a couple of things. The first is that for two years, I played behind Thurman Thomas, and Thurman is a Hall of Fame player, and I remember when he graduated, it was up to me to replace Thurman. But for the first two years, I played special teams. My sophomore year, my first kick return of the year, I returned it for a touchdown. Then my first kick return my junior year, which was my Heisman year, the same thing happened. First kick return of the year, I returned it for a touchdown. I think that was the first time that had ever been done in the NCAA, and to me, that really stands out, because as it was happening the second time, it just felt so unreal. I just kept thinking, “This can’t be happening again.” But playing behind Thurman, after my sophomore year, I thought I had already had a pretty good career in college. My sophomore year, I ran for about 600 yards and solidified myself as his backup, and I had no idea what was awaiting me that next year. I just did what the coaches asked me to do. I just tried to be a good ballplayer.
Jon Robinson: How closely do you still follow the Lions? What do you think of the team’s resurgence last season?
Barry Sanders: I still watch, and I had the chance to go to a couple of games this year. Our fans are thrilled about what they’ve seen. We had a couple of years where we made some important progress, and now we have (Matthew) Stafford healthy and 100 percent, we got Calvin Johnson, and we went out and solidified the defense. We’re thrilled with what Coach [Jim] Schwartz has been able to do. We were in our first playoff game in the last decade or so, so it’s exciting. I just hope we can get Jahvid Best healthy. I love what he’s able to do when he’s healthy, so hopefully we can get him back onto the field and contributing. With him on the field, we’re even more dangerous.
Jon Robinson: Calvin Johnson is in the final four of the “Madden 13” cover vote. It would be pretty cool if you guys both won and ended up on the box.
Barry Sanders: Hey, he would get my vote. I’m sure he’ll do well in the voting. He’s a terrific player and he goes about the game the right way. He has all the skills to rewrite the record books for receivers.