With this being Super Bowl week, I wanted to take a look back at the career and best performance by a SWT/Texas State Bobcat in a Super Bowl ever, Ricky Sanders in Super Bowl XXII.
High School Star
Sanders attended Belton High School, where he was a four sport athlete. In addition to football, he played basketball and was on the track and field team. Sanders was all-region in basketball and also placed or won in four different events for the track team.
During his senior year in track, he won the 110 meter hurdles, 300 meter hurdles, the pole vault and was a member of the 400 meter relay team at the district track championships. At that same event, he also placed second in the broad jump.
After that, he led Belton to their first ever regional track title by winning the 110 meter hurdles and pole vault events and placed second in the long jump and 300 meter hurdles. Belton would fall short of a state title in track that year, but Sanders was a stud on the team.
The accolades didn’t stop there. Sanders was one of Belton’s leading scorers in basketball for three years. His best year was his sophomore year, when he averaged 14 points per game. He was also a three year starter on Belton’s baseball team and was one of the leading hitters for the team. Oh yeah and he played football.
It seemed as though Sanders played just about every position on the football field. During his sophomore season, Sanders was all-district as a defensive back and led the team with six interceptions. He was also the place kicker on the Tiger team that went 9-1 in the regular season and lost to Marlin 34-0 in bi-district.
In his junior season, tSanders was an all-district running back, defensive back, punter and place-kicker for an undefeated (10-0) Belton team. That year they would again lose in the bi-district round, this time to Brownwood, who was the number one ranked 3A team in Texas.
In his senior season, Sanders played hurt the entire year at the running back, quarterback and defensive back positions. Belton would finish the season with a record of 7-3, the worst since Sanders became a member of the team.
Prior to his senior season, Sanders was being recruited by schools like Michigan, UCLA, Texas Tech and many others. Several injuries hampered his senior year in football and many believed that this is what scared the schools away.
Sanders still has a Belton team record of most interceptions in a game (3), which was also tied in 1991 by Julius Johnson.
Attending Southwest (Texas State)
Sanders wound up attending Texas State (then Southwest Texas State University) from 1981-83. Sanders was a two time All-Lone Star Conference running back for the Bobcats.
In 1982, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry and he was named MVP of the Palm Bowl, a game in which he rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries. That same season, he helped lead the Bobcats to an undefeated record (14-0) in route to a NCAA Division II Championship, the second of back to back titles.
In 1983, he led the team in scoring with 9 touchdowns and was the top punt returner, averaging over 11 yards per punt return. He ran for 706 yards on 141 carries and had 14 receptions for 210 receiving yards and one touchdown. He finished his career at Southwest Texas State third on the school’s all-time rushing list and he was also a team captain.
Making A Pit Stop In The USFL
In 1984 Sanders would make his professional debut with the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League (USFL). He would be teammates with future NFL greats Jim Kelly (Buffalo Bills), Clarence Verdin (Redskins, Colts and Falcons), Richard Johnson(Redskins and Lions), and Gerald McNeil (Browns and Oilers).
His best game in the USFL came during his rookie season. In a game against the Pittsburgh Maulers, Sanders caught 8 passes for 227 yards. Most of his USFL stats came from that same season. That year alone sanders finished with 101 receptions, 1,378 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sanders would only play two seasons in the USFL due to the league folding after the 1985 season. He finished his USFL career with 149 receptions for 1,916 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns.
Moving Up To The Big League
Prior to the 1984 NFL season, a supplemental draft was held and Sanders was selected 16th overall by the New England Patriots. The Redskins had been impressed with what Sanders had done in the USFL and wound up making a trade to acquire the wide receiver. The Redskins gave up a third round pick in the 1987 draft and signed Sanders on August 11, 1986.
In his rookie season with Washington, Sanders caught 14 passes for 286 yards and scored 2 touchdowns. The Redskins already had wide receivers Art Monk and Gary Clark, but they were looking for a deep threat and felt that Sanders fit what they were looking for.
The following season Sanders improved in almost every stat category, finishing with 37 catches for 630 yards and 3 touchdowns. But that season, he would save his best act for last.
The Redskins made it to Super Bowl XXII to face off with the Denver Broncos. Trailing 10-0 in the second quarter, Sanders and QB Doug Williams knew they needed a play to turn the momentum in their favor.
Identifying a potential weakness in the Broncos defense, Williams gave Sanders a nod and switched a run play to a pass that would come Sanders’ way. Cornerback Mark Haynes was playing press coverage on Sanders and he blew right past him once the ball was snapped. Williams hit Sanders in stride and Sanders took the ball 80 yards for a score that put the Redskins back in the game and would be the start to the breakout game for Sanders.
The Redskins went on to score 35 straight points in the second quarter and blew the game wide open. Sanders finished the quarter with 168 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. He would finish the game with 9 receptions, 193 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. At that time, Sanders held the records for most receiving touchdowns in a Super Bowl, receiving yards in a game and longest reception (80 yards).
Washington went on to win the game 42-10 and if you didn’t know who Ricky Sanders was before the game, you knew who he was now.
“I would’ve loved to have won MVP, but I was happy regardless,” Sanders said. “Doug had a great game. Timmy had a great game. We could’ve all been co-MVPs.”*
Sanders had his best two seasons as a professional following that Super Bowl breakout performance.
In 1988 he had 73 receptions for 1,148 yards and 12 touchdowns (which tied a team record). A year later in the 1989 season, he caught 80 passes for 1,138 yards and 4 touchdowns. That same year, Sanders, Art Monk and Gary Clark (or The Posse as they were better known), became the first group of three receivers to record at least 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
Sanders went on to play 6 more years in the NFL, but he never eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark again. He played 4 more years with the Redskins and would win a second Super Bowl in 1992, but he was not nearly as effective as he was in Super Bowl XXII. The last two years of his career were spent with the Atlanta Falcons, where he appeared in only 17 games.
Sanders finished his career with 483 receptions for 6,477 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also had 23 rushing attempts for 94 yards and one touchdown. He was honored as one of the 70th greatest Redskins of all time and his Super Bowl XXII performance was ranked number 22 of the 50th best Super Bowl performances of all time.
To date, he has had by far the best performance ever in a Super Bowl by a former Bobcat, whether it be Southwest Texas or Texas State.
*This quote was used from an article written by Jeffri Chadia, which can be read here.