East Lansing — Harlon Barnett thought he was going to get out of his media briefing Wednesday without talking about it.
For the Michigan State defensive backs coach, there is a moment from his playing career that most people remember, far more than him winning a Rose Bowl with the Spartans before embarking on a seven-year NFL career.
That moment came nearly 20 years ago at the Pontiac Silverdome when Barnett, a defensive back for the New England Patriots, got spun around like a top trying to stop Barry Sanders.
“Every year. Every year,” Barnett said with a loud laugh. “That was 1994, September, OK? So now we’re on the 20-year anniversary. And it has not gone one year I haven’t heard about that. Not one year. In 20 years! Not one time. So you kept the streak alive, that’s good.”
Barnett, of course, wasn’t the only player that Sanders made look silly. It’s just that one play almost is always included in a Sanders highlight package resulting in Barnett never hearing the end of it.
But even 20 years later, Barnett remembers the play vividly.
“It was a space tackle and we were in Cover 2 and I’ll never forget it,” he said. “Our corner to that side dove and missed. I guess he said, ‘I’m gonna get mine out the way right now, I’m gonna dive and just look like I gave a great effort.’ And so I came down and I’m trying to force him back to my other safety, and that’s when the whole spin action happened.
“Like my cousin said after the game, ‘At least you didn’t fall, man.’”
Barnett, who is dealing with enough grief these days after rupturing his Achilles while playing basketball, said there was no question Sanders was the toughest player he ever had to tackle. He did point out, however, that he has one unassisted tackle of Sanders.
And he’s lucky most of his current players are too young to know much about that one play.
“My guys don’t really bring it up,” he said. “I guess the younger, younger guys may be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But the older guys know. Believe me, they know.”
Sanders rushed for 131 yards on 18 carries in that game but the Patriots prevailed, 23-17.