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30 Day Challenge, Day 20: Most Respected Opposing Player

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This post marks the two-thirds point in the 30 Day Challenge for June, and we've got another question that focuses on players that the Minnesota Vikings have faced over the years. Here's the topic of discussion for this Saturday.

Of all the opposing players that the Minnesota Vikings have faced, which one did you (or do you) have the most respect for?

My answer is a guy that I loved to watch, whether he was playing the Vikings or not, because he might be the best pure running back I've ever watched live. That man is Detroit Lions' running back Barry Sanders.

Sanders was taken by the Lions with the third overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. Before we get more into Sanders, let's point out how amazing the Top 5 of that 1989 draft was. Here's how the first five picks went.

#1 - Dallas Cowboys - Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA
#2 - Green Bay Packers - Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State
#3 - Detroit Lions - Barry Sanders, RB, Michigan State
#4 - Kansas City Chiefs - Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama
#5 - Atlanta Falcons - Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State

Four of those five guys are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The fifth might be the single biggest bust in NFL draft history.

If you've never seen college highlights of Barry Sanders, do yourself a favor and track them down. The guy was incredible, and his senior year of 1988 may have been the single greatest season for a running back in the history of college football. He averaged. . .averaged. . .237 yards a game, and was the answer to life, the universe, and everything by scoring 42 rushing touchdowns. None of those numbers are misprints or typos. Those were his actual stats.

He brought all that ability to the National Football League, starting with winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1989 and finishing second in the NFL in rushing. In ten seasons in the National Football League, he never rushed for less than 1,100 yards in a year. . .his low-water mark was 1,115 in 1993, a season where he missed five games.

There was a debate throughout much of Sanders' career about who was the better back. . .Sanders or Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys. Let me tell you. . .if Sanders had been able to run behind the offensive line that Smith had in front of him, there's no reason to think that he couldn't have rushed for 2,000 yards multiple times. As it was, he did it once in 1997, rushing for 2,053 yards, a number that stands as the fourth-highest single season total in NFL history.

Beyond all that, Sanders truly personified the "act like you've been there before" attitude on the field. After every touchdown he scored, there was no spiking, no dancing, no "in your face" to his opponent. . .he simply flipped the ball to the official and jogged back to the Detroit sideline.

But on the football field, he was pretty incredible. Here's a little video that ESPN did about him for their SportCentury series for your viewing enjoyment.

I've seen the Minnesota Vikings face a lot of opponents over the year, but I don't think that I have the respect for any of the rest that I have for Barry Sanders.

Who's your pick for this one, folks?