Bob Sanders was a Hall of Fame talent who just played too hard for the Colts.
If things had broken just a little bit differently, the Indianapolis Colts could have had a Hall of Fame safety roaming their secondary for the entire length of the Peyton Manning era.
Alas, Bob Sanders simply hit too hard and sprinted too fast for his bursts to be sustainable. Play like a fire, and you might just get snuffed out like one, too.
It doesn’t often get discussed, though, that Sanders wasn’t just good. He was electric. He was a generational talent. He had Champ Bailey productivity with the panache of Sean Taylor.
At his Defensive Player of the Year peak, he was arguably as good as any singular DB force in the game.
Other safeties were models of consistency, sure, but Sanders was briefly the gold standard for flash.
He only played in two full NFL seasons in Indy — 2005 (14 starts) and 2007 (15). In ’07, he swarmed the field and owned the narrative, with a pair of picks, six passes defensed, a fumble recovery, and 3.5 sacks. Sanders was deployed all over the field, and became a one-man shutdown unit you didn’t want to go anywhere near. He was just 26 that season.
Safety remains a weirdly discarded position in the Hall of Fame lexicon. Only in recent years has the respect increased, as a core of Sanders’ compatriots, from Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu to Brian Dawkins, have arrived at Canton’s doorstep.
In order to be honored, a Hall of Fame safety must be uniquely talented, but also captivating beyond the basics.
Sanders, if he’d been given a better set of breaks, could’ve been the defensive force opposite Peyton Manning, in the same way that Polamalu completes Ben Roethlisberger’s legacy from that era of Steelers football. Alas, he instead shines bright, alone, the 2007 DPoY a singular piece of hardware instead of the start of something greater.
Sometimes, the best simply isn’t meant to do it forever.