Barry Sanders isn’t just one of the greatest running backs of all time – he’s one of the most dominant NFL players of all time. His impact on the game goes far beyond his position and he earned his right into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite only spending 10 seasons in the league between 1989 and 1998.
On Sept. 16, just one day before their 2023 home opener vs. the Seattle Seahawks, the Detroit Lions unveiled an 8-foot statue of Sanders outside Gate B at Ford Field – forever immortalizing his legacy in the city where his career both began and ended. No Lions player is more deserving of this incredible honor.
The statue was designed by Fine Art Studio artists Omri Amrany and Lou Cella, and sits on the corner of Montcalm St. and Brush St. – sandwiched between Ford Field and Comerica Park. It portrays his shifty style of running and even features his cut-off gloves and wide-eyed look that are synonymous with Barry.
15 Other NFL Players With a Statue Outside of a Stadium
Barry Sanders is one of the few NFL players worthy of a statue. He spent his entire 10-year career with the team and recorded 15,269 rushing yards, 352 receptions, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 total TDs with the team. The 10-time Pro Bowler was named MVP in 1997 and Offensive Player of the Year twice.
“It’s such a unique honor,” Sanders said at the ceremony – which featured more than 150 members of his family. “I grew up being familiar with Heisman Trophy (winners) and NFL MVPs, but to have your own statue is something that’s just unique and so far out of the realm of anything I would have ever imagined.”
It takes a special type of player to earn a statue outside of a stadium. Not only do you have to be one of the greatest of all time, but you need to play in a city long enough to gain their respect for eternity. It’s not something we see often, but let’s take a look at 15 other NFL players (and notable figures) with a statue.
15. Tom Landry – Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys honored their legendary head coach, Tom Landry, with a statue in 2001 – one year after he died of leukemia. The statue was originally placed in front of Texas Stadium, but was moved into temporary storage in March 2009 and placed in front of Cowboys Stadium when construction was done.
Landry played in the AAFC and NFL between 1949 and 1955, but started a coaching career in 1954 and was a defensive coordinator for the New York Giants until 1959. Landry was Dallas’ head coach between 1960-1988, and led them to a 250-162-6 record – the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1972 and 1978.
14. Curly Lambeau – Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers honored their legendary player, coach, and owner – Curly Lambeau – with a 14-foot bronze statue in 2003 in front of Lambeau Field. The statue features a six-foot granite base and shows the NFL icon pointing off into the distance with his left arm and holding a football in his right hand.
Lambeau founded the Packers’ franchise with a friend in 1919 and acted as the team’s head coach and general manager between 1920 and 1949 – he was also a player for 10 seasons, acting as the team’s primary passer and runner. He was a six-time NFL champion with the Packers and current Hall of Famer.
13. Vince Lombardi – Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers honored their legendary head coach, Vince Lombardi, with a 14-foot bronze statue in 2003 in front of Lambeau Field – standing 25-30 feet to the left of the Curly Lambeau statue. Vince’s has a similar six-foot granite base and shows him in a trench coat with his hands behind his back.
Lombardi acted as the team’s head coach and general manager between 1959 and 1968. During that time, he led the team to an 89-29-4 record in the regular season, 9-1 record in the postseason, three NFL championships, and two Super Bowl championships. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.
12. Art Rooney Sr. – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers honored their legendary owner, Art Rooney Sr., with a statue of him sitting down with his coat on his lap and a cigar in his right hand. He was dressed like a businessman because that’s who he was – founding the Steelers’ franchise in 1933 and owning the team up until his death in 1988.
Rooney Sr.’s impact on football goes beyond measure – he was one of the most beloved NFL owners of all-time and it’s a big reason why his statue sits outside Heinz Field, where the Steelers play their home games. The team also named the street that runs adjacent to the stadium after him – Art Rooney Avenue.
11. Don Shula – Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins honored their legendary head coach, Don Shula, with a statue depicting the moment linebacker Nick Buoniconti and offensive lineman Al Jenkins carried him on their shoulders after he led the team to a perfect 14-0 season. The statue sits outside Hard Rock Stadium and was created in 2010.
Shula is a Hall of Fame coach who led the Ravens to a 71-23-4 record between 1963 and 1969, and the Dolphins to a 257-133-2 record between 1970 and 1995. The Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1972 and 1973 under his leadership. His coaching tree includes Doug Marrone and Doug Pederson.
10. Walter Payton – Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears honored their legendary running back, Walter Payton, with a 12-foot, 3,000-pound statue outside Soldier Field. The statue was created by sculptor Chad Fisher and stands outside Gate 0 at the south end of the stadium – along with the franchise’s founder, owner, and coach, George Halas.
Payton spent his entire 13-year career with the Bears between 1975 and 1987. He recorded 16,726 rushing yards, 492 receptions, 4,538 receiving yards, and 125 total touchdowns during that time. The 9-time Pro Bowler won a Super Bowl in 1986 and was MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 1977.
9. Sam Mills – Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers honored their Hall of Fame linebacker, Sam Mills, with a life-size bronze statue of him in full uniform – holding his helmet at his hip and his mouthpiece tucked into his sock. It was created by Todd Andrews in 1998 and stands near an entrance on the east side of Bank of America Stadium.
Mills only spent three seasons with the Panthers between 1995 and 1997, but it was a special three years. He signed with the team for their inaugural season in the NFL and had an interception return TD that sealed their first win as a franchise. He earned himself a Pro Bowl nod in 1996 at 37 years old.
8. Sean Taylor – Washington Commanders
The Washington Commanders honored their 2-time Pro Bowl safety, Sean Taylor, with a life-size statue in 2022. The unveiling didn’t quite go as planned as fans took exception to the design – instead of going with a bronze statue, fans criticized the statue for looking more like a mannequin wearing his uniform.
Taylor only spent four years in the NFL after being drafted by the Commanders with the No. 5 overall pick in 2004. He had 5 interceptions through the first nine games of the 2007 season, but his career was cut short when intruders murdered him in his home in November 2007. His death was a big blow to the NFL.
7. Steve Gleason – New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints honored their iconic defensive back, Steve Gleason, with a life-size statue outside the Superdome in 2012. The statue depicts his blocked punt that was recovered for a TD in 2006 – the iconic play was the team’s first touchdown in the newly-built stadium following Hurricane Katrina.
Gleason spent his entire 7-year career with the Saints between 2000 and 2006. He retired from the NFL in 2008 and was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) three years later in 2011. His play in 2006 revives a team and city that was devastated by the hurricane, which is why the statue is called ‘Rebirth.’
6. Jim Brown – Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns honored their legendary Hall of Fame running back, Jim Brown, with a life-size statue. It was the team’s first time honoring a player with a statue and they couldn’t have picked a more deserving player. It stands in front of FirstEnergy Stadium and was created by sculptor David L. Deming.
Brown spent his entire nine-year career with the Browns between 1957 and 1965. He recorded 12,312 rushing yards, 262 receptions, 2,499 receiving yards, and 126 total touchdowns during that time – winning an NFL Championship in 1965, three MVP awards, and being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.
5. Pat Tillman – Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals honored their iconic safety, Pat Tillman, with a larger-than-life-sized statue outside State Farm Stadium in 2006 – just two years after he died fighting for his country in Afghanistan. A 42-foot wall sits behind the sculpture, a nod to his popular No. 42 jersey in college while playing for Arizona State.
Tillman was a 7th-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 1998 and spent the first four years of his career with the team. He decided to leave his sports career behind and enlisted himself in the Army after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On April 22, 2004, Tillman was killed in combat by what was reported as friendly fire.
4. Dan Marino – Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins honored their Hall of Fame quarterback, Dan Marino, with a bronze life-sized statue that sits outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. The statue was unveiled on September 17, 2000 – the same night they retired his No. 13 jersey – and shows him in full uniform as he salutes the fanbase.
Marino spent his entire 17-year career with the Dolphins between 1983 and 1999. He threw for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns during that time, leading the team to a 147-93 record as a starter. He was named MVP in 1984 when he led the NFL with 48 TDs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
3. Johnny Unitas – Baltimore Colts
The Baltimore Ravens honored their Hall of Fame quarterback, Johnny Unitas, with a 14-foot bronze statue that weighs more than 2,000 pounds. It sits in front of the Main Gate A at M&T Bank Stadium and was dedicated on October 20, 2002. The statue was created by highly-respected sculptor, Fredrick Kail.
Unitas spent 17 seasons with the Baltimore Colts before their move to Indianapolis – his legacy was built in the Baltimore community, which is why the Ravens honored him with a statue and not the Colts. He was a three-time NFL Champion, won three MVP awards, and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1979.
2. Ray Lewis – Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens honored their Hall of Fame linebacker, Ray Lewis, with a larger-than-life-sized bronze statue that weighs more than 1,200 pounds. The statue stands outside the Main Gate A at M&T Bank Stadium – next to that of Johnny Unitas – and portrays him in the middle of his ‘squirrel dance.’
Lewis spent his entire 17-year career with the Ravens between 1996 and 2012 – the statue was unveiled in 2014. The 12-time Pro Bowler helped lead the Ravens to two Super Bowl wins and won two Defensive Player of the Year awards in the process. He’s one of the greatest linebackers the NFL has ever seen.
1. Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts honored their Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, with a nine-foot bronze statue that sits on the north plaza of Lucas Oil Stadium. The statue was designed and created by Ryan Feeney, and was dedicated in October 2017. It shows Manning with his arm cocked back to pass the ball.
Manning was the Colts’ No. 1 overall pick in 1998 and spent the first 13 years of his career with the team between 1998 and 2010. He threw for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns before leaving town – leading the Colts to a 141-67 record and a Super Bowl win in 2007. He was a four-time MVP with the Colts.
NFL Players Worthy of a Statue in the Future
Statues aren’t just handed out in the NFL – they’re earned, just like any other accolade. And while there are a lot of NFL players who can make an argument for one, a majority of them will never get the honor due to the sacred nature of it. I mean, some NFL teams still don’t have a statue outside their stadium.
Of all the players without a statue, there’s one who comes to mind that’s not only worthy of it, but almost guaranteed one at some point – and that’s Tom Brady. The New England Patriots would be reckless not to have a statue of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game sitting outside Gillette Stadium.
The Buffalo Bills don’t have a statue for Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, or Thurman Thomas. The New Orleans Saints should have one of Drew Brees and the Green Bay Packers should have one of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. And I’ll say it now – Patrick Mahomes will get one when he retires.
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