I’ll bet geography makes a big difference in your opinion here, and I’m from Michigan (though a lot of people in Texas saw Barry at Oklahoma State). That being said, Barry Sanders is the superior pure talent for many reasons. His only downfall was that he lacked the social or bonding skills that made Emmitt the better teammate. This could be due to playing for the Detroit organization, which doesn’t seem to value winning like the Cowboys or just a character flaw.
Stats to back me up:
Barry Sanders 10 seasons, 15,269 yards – 1,527 yds/season
Emmitt Smith 15 seasons, 18,335 yards – 1,222 yds/season
Plays of 20+ yds:
Barry Sanders 113 – Emmitt Smith 94
Plays of 40+ yds:
Barry Sanders 42 – Emmitt Smith 17
Barry Sanders 19 – Emmitt Smith 38
Emmitt had 5 more seasons to accumulate the big plays, but just lacked the explosiveness of Barry. Most people know, that if Barry didn’t suddenly retire he could have easily amassed 20,000 rushing yards.
Also, I think everyone would agree that the offensive line of the Cowboys was superior to that of the Lions. If Barry had that line, he would have rushed for a few hundred more yards each season, getting his average near 2,000 yds/season. Sterling Sharpe once said this on ESPN.
Overall, I think Barry is a top 3 running back of all time along with Walter Payton and Jim Brown. Emmitt would be top 6 or so in my opinion. If I went back in time to start a franchise in 1990, Barry Sanders would be my running back.
Josh Sherwood, Sports Fan