Spec Sanders

American football player (1919–2003)
American football player
Spec Sanders
No. 81
Personal information
Born:(1919-01-26)January 26, 1919
Temple, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died:July 6, 2003(2003-07-06) (aged 84)
Lawton, Oklahoma, U.S.
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:196 lb (89 kg)
Career information
High school:Temple (OK)
NFL draft:1942 / Round: 1 / Pick: 6
Career history
  • New York Yankees (1946–1948)
  • New York Yanks (1950)
Career highlights and awards
AAFC records
  • Most rushing yards in a season: 1,431 (1947)
  • Most rushing touchdowns in a season: 18 (1947)
  • Most points scored in a season: 114 (1947)
Career AAFC/NFL statistics
Rushing yards:2,900
Rushing touchdowns:33
Receiving touchdowns:3
Passing yards:2,829
Passer rating:52.4
Punting yards:7,854
Interceptions made:19
Player stats at PFR

Orban Eugene "Spec" Sanders (January 26, 1919 – July 6, 2003) was an American professional football tailback, quarterback, and punter in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and a safety in the National Football League (NFL) for the New York Yanks. He was a Pro Bowler in 1950, his final season, when he led the NFL with a then-record-tying 13 interceptions.

Early life

Nicknamed "Spec" because of his freckles as a child, Sanders first excelled in football in high school for Temple High School in Oklahoma. His father ran a barber shop there. In 1936, he transferred to Cameron Junior College in Lawton. He still had two years of high school remaining, but at the time he was allowed to take high school courses at Cameron and play four years for the school. After four years at Cameron, he was recruited by Dana X. Bible and Blair Cherry to play at the University of Texas.[1]

College career

In 1940, Sanders saw little playing time as he was injured. The next year, he played behind Jack Crain and still managed to rack up 365 yards and score 53 points, which was good enough to catch the eye of the Washington Redskins.[1]

Professional career

Sanders had been the sixth overall pick of the 1942 NFL Draft, but he had instead elected to serve in World War II. He served in the United States Navy for two years before playing football for North Carolina Pre-Flight. After the war ended, he went back to Texas to finish his degree.

Four years later, at the age of 28, he returned to football with the newly formed All-America Football Conference. Sanders would serve in a variety of positions for the New York Yankees, playing tailback, defensive back, and punter, while starting nine of 13 games. He ran 140 times for 709 yards for six touchdowns, all of which were league highs. He also caught 17 passes for 259 yards for three touchdowns. In quarterback duty, he threw 33-of-79 for 411 yards with four touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also made 33 punts for 1,208 yards while recording two interceptions on defense, one of which he returned 50 yards for a touchdown. He also returned 30 punt/kick returns for 652 yards and two combined touchdowns, one of them being a 103 yard touchdown. In total, he had 1,691 all-purpose yards with sixteen touchdowns. That year, the Yankees prevailed as the top team of the Eastern Division and won the right to play in the AAFC Championship. Facing the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, he ran 14 times for 55 yards and one touchdown that gave the Yankees a 9-7 lead. He also returned two kicks for 52 yards while making a 45-yard punt. However, the Browns pulled away with a 14-9 win on a late Otto Graham touchdown pass.

Sanders had an even better year in 1947. He played tailback, quarterback, punter, punt/kickoff returner and defensive back. Consequently, he led the league in carries (231), yards (1,432), and touchdowns (18). He threw 93-of-171 for 1,442 yards with 14 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, he punted 46 times for 1,938 yards and he recorded three interceptions while returning 28 total punt/kicks for 757 yards with one touchdown. In total, he recorded 2,265 all-purpose yards. No player would have as many rushing touchdowns as Sanders until Jim Taylor in 1962, while Jim Brown wouldn't break his rushing yard record until 1958.[2] His greatest game came on October 24, when he faced Chicago Rockets. He ran 24 times for 250 yards - despite being pulled from the game in the third quarter, a pro record that would not be touched until O. J. Simpson broke it over 25 years later.[1] The Yankees returned to the AAFC Championship game again after being the top team in the Eastern Division. Sanders ran the ball 12 times for 40 yards while throwing 7-of-17 for 89 yards and one interception and returning a kick 32 yards. The Browns, like the year before however, won 14-3.[3]

1948 was Sanders last full effective year. He played in nine starts while making appearances in four others, and he ran 169 times (a league high for the third straight year) for 759 yards with nine touchdowns. He went 78-of-168 for 918 yards with 5 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while punting 42 times for 1,707 yards. He also recorded one interception on defense while returning the ball for 345 total yards on 18 returns. Sanders suffered from knee woes and retired after the 1948 season. Despite this, he finished as the AAFC's second leading all-time rusher and all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. He was lured out of retirement to play in the NFL in 1950. Because of the knee problems, he opted to play only defense and punting that year. He responded by being named to the Pro Bowl and tying the NFL's all-time single season interception record with 13, which had been done by Dan Sandifer in 1948 with 13. Since then, only two other players have had 13 or more interceptions in a single season. He also punted 71 times for 3,001 yards. At that point, Spec Sanders decided to retire for good. Sanders also retired while ranked eleventh all-time in punting yards and ninth in punts while seventh in all-purpose yards.[4][5][6]

He had a total of 5,376 all-purpose yards while having 2,829 passing yards in his career. In total, Sanders had scored 63 total touchdowns: 33 rushing, 23 passing, 3 receiving, two on kick return, one on a punt return, and one interception return for a touchdown. The Professional Football Researchers Association named Sanders to the PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2008.[7]

Following his football career, Sanders moved back to Oklahoma and worked as a small town businessman.[1]

Professional rushing statistics

Led the league
Bold Career high
Year Team League GP GS Att Yds Avg TD
1946 New York Yankees AAFC 13 9 140 709 5.1 6
1947 New York Yankees AAFC 14 12 231 1,432 6.2 18
1948 New York Yankees AAFC 13 9 169 759 4.5 9


Sanders died in 2003 at the age of 84.

Notes and references

  1. ^ co-leader in this season
  1. ^ a b c d Tramel, Barry (12 December 2016). "Spec Sanders: a forgotten Oklahoma football hero". Retrieved 14 February 2023.
  2. ^ "State Your Case: Spec Sanders and his forgotten greatness".
  3. ^ "Championship - Cleveland Browns at New York Yankees - December 14th, 1947".
  4. ^ "NFL Career Punting Yards Leaders Through 1950".
  5. ^ "NFL Career Punts Leaders Through 1950".
  6. ^ "NFL Career All-Purpose Yards Leaders Through 1950".
  7. ^ "Hall of Very Good". Retrieved October 2, 2020.
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