HONOLULU -- Steve Mariucci marveled at Barry Sanders' agility and acrobatic moves.
And Sanders was just waiting to field punts.
"Did you see that? He was doing cartwheels and flips before the ball came down. That guy can do anything you want," said Mariucci, the San Francisco coach who will run the NFC in Sunday's Pro Bowl. "He's phenomenal."
Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn, the only rookie voted into the Pro Bowl this year, is a big fan of the Detroit Lions star.
`He's the man," Dunn said. "It's a pleasure to be on the same (all-star) team with him. As long as he plays the game, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy watching him."
And he almost surely will see NFL history made. Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards this season, joining Eric Dickerson (2,105 in 1984) and O.J. Simpson (2,003 in 1973) as the only players to top 2,000 yards.
The big year moved Sanders, who shared the MVP award with Green Bay's Brett Favre, into second place on the career rushing list. His 13,778 yards trail only Walter Payton's 16,726.
Sanders, who has made the Pro Bowl each of his nine seasons, began the season seventh on the rushing ladder and vaulted over Marcus Allen, Franco Harris, Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett and Dickerson.
t 29 years old, Sanders could also challenge the career record for 100-yard games. He's second to Payton in that department, too, with 68 to Payton's 77.
Asked if and Payton were friends, Sanders cracked: "Oh, I've heard of him. I've had the pleasure of meeting him a few times."
He grinned and added: "I ran into him at the airport in Oklahoma City a couple of years ago, and he practically tackled me."
Other record categories where Sanders ranks high include touchdowns, where he's tied for eighth with 105; rushing TDs, where he's sixth with 95; and 200-yard rushing games, where he's tied for second with four, behind Simpson's record of six.
anders already holds several marks, including rushing for 1,000 yards for nine consecutive seasons; five 1,500-yard seasons; and rushing for 100 or more yards 14 times in a season.
He may move rapidly on the other rushing records, since Lions coach Bobby Ross favors a ball-control game.
"We like the changes we've made," Sanders said of Ross' first season. "The whole emphasis of our attack has changed. We've become a definite run-oriented team and I think we showed improvement on both sides of the ball last season.
"We want to be patient, have our defense keep the other team's offense on the sidelines so we can keep running the ball."
anders struggled the first two games, rushing for just 33 yards on 15 carries against Atlanta and 20 yards on 10 carries against Tampa Bay.
But he and the offensive line starting clicking under Ross' new system in the third game, and he gained 161 yards on 19 carries against Chicago. The Lions faced Tampa Bay again in November and this time Sanders carried 24 times for 215 yards, including scoring runs of 80 and 82 yards.
"The way I started, I thought I was going to be very lucky just to get 1,000 yards this year," he said. "But we had confidence in the changes we made and just stuck with them."
The Lions came back from a 4-6 start to finish 9-7, then lost 20-10 to Tampa Bay in the playoffs.
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