London hosts it’s third and final NFL International Series game at Wembley this weekend.
The Detroit Lions take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2:30pm kick off and amongst the sell-out crowd will be one of the sport’s greatest players.
Depending on who you support you might say Barry Sanders is the greatest player to have played running back.
Clocking up 15,269 yards during his ten year career, the former Lions back is the third highest rusher in NFL history.
If he had played one more season, which he was physically capable of doing, he would have smashed the record and would sit top of the pile. But for Sanders it wasn’t about records.
“He’s got a bright future, he knows how to make big plays”
It’s taken the Lions fifteen years to find a back that can excite their fans the way he did. There’s been a lot of hype around Ameer Abdullah, their rookie from Nebraska. So far though he’s struggled to set the field on fire this season.
But Sanders isn’t worried, “He’s a great player” he said whilst at a coaching masterclass for British amateur players at Tottenham’s training ground.
“He’s been very successful”, the Hall of Fame star added, “he had a great preseason and he can do well in space.”
So does Sanders see any comparisons with his former self? “I think there are. He’s a guy you’d love to get in space and give him the ball.”
Barry Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards in his rookie year, scoring four touchdowns and averaged 4.3yds per carry.
Abdullah has featured in each of Detroit’s seven games this season. So far he’s rushed for 222 yards with one touchdown. He’s averaging 3.6yds per carry, but Sanders isn’t concerned, “he’s got a bright future because he’s a player who knows how to make big plays”.
Ameer Abdullah is enjoying his football and his time in London. Speaking at Detroit’s Hertfordshire HQ at The Grove hotel he said that the trip has been good for team building, “I’ve grown closer to some of my team mates.”
“I’ve gone old school,” Abdullah explained when asked about what the players have been doing in their spare time, “I don’t have a phone signal so I’ve had to call team mates or knock on their doors. I’ve got to know guys better.”
“I can only aspire to be that great”
After an explosive preseason a lot of Lions fans pinned their hopes on this running back to take them to that next level in the play-offs, but Abdullah isn’t feeling that weight of expectation, “I don’t feel it (pressure). People compare me to Barry but that was 20/30 years ago when he played.”
Has he approached Sanders for advice? “I have not. Barry is busy doing his thing, he does a lot of work with the community.”
But the young back does plan to talk the former All Pro, “I’m looking forward it. He’s the greatest running back ever. He can help me out.”
Ameer Abdullah is fully aware of the pride the Detroit faithful have in their former star, “if you know anything about the Detroit fanbase is they hold on to that (Sanders’s record) and they don’t forget.”
Abdullah hopes he’s the man they’ve been longing for since Sanders announced his retirement in 1999, “Lions fans trust that they will find another like him and I can only aspire to be that great.”
So why has it taken Detroit 15 years to find another feature back? “I’d like to think that guys like me are a rare breed,” explained Sanders.
“The draft hasn’t gone their way in previous years,” added Barry. “The game has changed. It’s played different from junior level right up to the pros. There’s less emphasis on running plays, but there are guys out there.”
Ameer Abdullah has the potential and Lions fans will be hoping he’s given that space soon.