On Friday, Mr. Reluctant, Barry Sanders, walked up to Oklahoma State publicist Steve Buzzard in the lobby of the Miyako Hotel and said, "Steve, I understand there's supposed to be some thing on Sunday."
"Yes," said Buzzard, looking with apprehension at Sanders, the Cowboys' heavily muscled, 5'8", 197-pound tailback.
"Well, it's game day," said Sanders. "I really don't want to do it."
Buzzard looked ill. "Barry," he pleaded.
The best running back in college football said softly, "It being game day and all...." Then he walked away, back to the elevator and up to his room.
Sunday was indeed game day for Oklahoma State, which would face Texas Tech in a non-conference meeting in the Tokyo Dome. The thing that Sanders didn't want to take part in was the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Sanders was supposed to participate in the proceedings via a satellite hookup from the CBS-TV studio in Tokyo to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, where the announcement would be made at 5:50 p.m. EST on Saturday—7:50 a.m. on Sunday in Japan. But Sanders doesn't like award ceremonies. In fact, he hates them. He just wanted to win the game, pack his bags and get back to school.
"Japan is nice," said Sanders of his brief forays outside the hotel. "The buildings are compact. The people are occupied with their jobs; they're pretty serious. But you know what the saying is, 'There's no place like home.' "
So Sanders had made up his mind. He wouldn't involve himself in the Heisman ceremony. Buzzard shook his head in bewilderment. "There's a unique individual," he mumbled after Sanders had gone.
Indeed he is. Sanders, who grew up in Wichita, Kans., is one of William and Shirley Sanders's 11 children. His remarkable football skills are matched only by his unflagging desire not to be singled out for them. A true junior—he was never redshirted—who's completing his first year as a full-time starter, Sanders had run for 2,296 yards, tops in the nation, and broken or tied 18 NCAA yardage and scoring records even before last week's game. He had gone from an unheralded replacement for Thurman Thomas, who's now with the Buffalo Bills, to someone whose collegiate highlight film rivals those of O.J. Simpson, Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker.
On Sunday, Sanders led the Cowboys to a wild 45-42 win over the Red Raiders with 257 yards rushing on a career-high 42 carries. He ran for four touchdowns to extend his single-season record for TDs to 39—37 rushing, one on a punt return and one on a kickoff return. In his last six games Sanders has been on a tear, rushing for 1,551 yards on 212 attempts to average 258.5 yards per game and 7.3 per carry. On Dec. 30, the 9-2 Cowboys will take on Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl.