The Associated Press made official what we have known for quite some time, Ndamukong Suh is the defensive rookie of the year.
The AP has been handing out end of season rookie awards since 1967. Suh is the seventh Lion to win such an award and the first since Barry Sanders in 1989.
Despite the obvious differences between Ndamukong Suh and Barry Sanders, I was amazed at how often I found similarities between the two as I watched over the course of this past season. Eight inches and a hundred pounds separate the men in terms of their stature but their makeup between the ears is what links them together.
Both men put up tremendous final years as collegiate athletes that made them finalists for the Heisman trophy and top-three picks in the following draft. While both player started out with holdouts (although to varying degrees) neither allowed it to affect their play on the field.
Suh fell just half a sack shy of tying the all-time record for sacks by a rookie defensive tackle while intercepting a pass and returning a fumble for a touchdown. There wasn’t another defensive tackle in all of football that has a highlight reel to compare with what Suh put together this past year.
Barry Sanders burst onto the scene with a nine carry 71 yard performance with a touchdown in his first game as a professional despite signing very late. Barry ended up putting together seven 100-yard games in the 15 he played in as a rookie and totaled 1470 yards. Little did anyone know, this would actually end up being a slightly below average season.
Ndamukong Suh and Barry Sanders represent more than just very good players. They are players that Lions fans can look upon with great pride when a discussion between football fans shifts to the league’s best players. Pride that these two are “our guys” goes beyond what they do on the field. Both are great ambassadors for the game and the city that prefer to deflect the attention away from themselves. For all they may do to downplay themselves, they truly are faces of the Lion franchise.
Yes, Ndamukong Suh is much more likely to be out in the public’s eye but he seems to do it because he knows he is desired and wants to be available, not because he needs to have his face on television and his voice on the radio. Any fan of the Lions during the Barry-era knows that Sanders was even more elusive off the field than he was on it. It is always about the team with these two, despite the individual honors. You’d be hard pressed to find two better players to serve as cornerstones of a team.
Barry did it with grace, Suh does it with power. Their means and methods may be very different but these two are part of the same story.