Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was one of the most electrifying players of his generation.
However, another running back named Barry wreaked havoc on defenses during that time.
It was none other than the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Barry Foster.
“The NFL’s Other Barry” enjoyed his lone breakout season with the Steelers in 1992.
Foster shattered Franco Harris’ single-season franchise rushing record. He had an incredible 1,690 rushing yards that year.
Unfortunately, several injuries shortened Foster’s once-promising NFL career. He was just twenty-six years old when he retired from the gridiron in 1995.
Had Barry Foster enjoyed a lengthier pro football career, he would’ve made a strong case for Canton, for sure.
Barry Foster was born on December 8, 1968 in Duncanville, TX.
Foster’s mother raised him in a single-parent household.
He gave credit to his older brother Gerald for having the biggest impact on his football career, per the Pittsburgh Steelers’ official website:
“Probably the biggest impact would be my brother Gerald. He spent 20 years in the Air Force and when we would get together he would just kind of help me map out how I could become better, how I could be a better player, what I needed to do, what mindset.”
He attended Duncanville High School and graduated in 1987.
Foster excelled at running back for the Duncanville Panthers. He led the team to consecutive district titles in his junior and senior seasons.
Foster earned First Team All-State and Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1987.
Barry Foster would make a name for himself as a member of the Arkansas Razorbacks in his college football career.
College Days With The Arkansas Razorbacks
Barry Foster played as a fullback in Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach Ken Hatfield’s wishbone offense.
Foster also played as a punt return specialist for Hatfield.
The Razorbacks were a football powerhouse during Barry Foster’s time in Fayetteville, AR.
Arkansas had a gaudy 29-8 record in the three seasons Foster suited up.
The Razorbacks lost to the 15th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the 1987 Liberty Bowl, 20-17.
Foster blossomed as a punt return specialist in his sophomore season at Arkansas.
He returned 23 kickoffs in 1988. It was a school record that stood for fourteen years.
Arkansas won ten of its twelve games and clinched the Southwest Conference title in the 1988 NCAA season.
Unfortunately, they lost to the ninth-ranked UCLA Bruins in the 1988 Cotton Bowl, 17-3.
The Razorbacks duplicated their impressive 10-2 win-loss record a season later. They also won their second consecutive Southwest Conference championship.
Alas, they lost in the Cotton Bowl for the second straight year.
This time around, 10th-ranked Arkansas lost to the eighth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, 31-27.
@CFB150 Barry Foster (born December 8, 1968) He went on to attend the University of Arkansas where he played fullback for the Razorbacks Pittsburgh Steelers (1990–1994) pic.twitter.com/MhYZBKpUXd
— Timothy C. Kulla (@TCKooo) December 8, 2019
Barry Foster had played his final down on the college gridiron. He decided to skip his senior season to turn pro.
Foster admitted to BehindTheSteelCurtain.com’s Jeff Hartman in 2016 he left Arkansas after his junior year because he wanted to help his mother financially.
Foster also said he wasn’t fond of new Razorbacks head football coach Jack Crowe:
“I needed the economic benefit. I was in a single-parent household and wanted to help my mom. That was the driving force behind the decision.”
“Also, my head coach (Ken Hatfield), the one who recruited me, left for Clemson. The entire coaching staff was leaving and I knew the new head coach and wasn’t fond of him. That helped my decision.”
Barry Foster had 1,977 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on 375 carries for the Arkansas Razorbacks from 1987 to 1989.
His career rushing production is currently sixth all-time in program history, per the Razorbacks’ official athletics website.
Foster’s 1,008 kickoff return yards also ranks sixth in school history.
Barry Foster would become part of one of the most successful franchises in the National Football League.
While his professional football career didn’t last long, it was a meaningful one, nonetheless.
Pro Football Career
The Pittsburgh Steelers made Barry Foster the 128th overall pick of the 1990 NFL Draft.
The Steelers selected the 5’10”, 223-lb. Foster in the fifth round.
The selection came as a shock to Foster because he thought the Cleveland Browns would draft him instead.
Foster told Hartman some twenty-six years later he spoke with the Browns on the phone during the draft. They told him they’d pluck him from the draft pool in the second round.
When the Browns got up to the podium, they mentioned “fullback.” At that moment, Barry Foster thought he’d strut his wares in Northeast Ohio.
Alas, Cleveland selected Michigan Wolverines fullback Leroy Hoard instead.
“I was shocked,” Foster told BehindTheSteelCurtain in 2016. “They just told me they were going to take me. I was disappointed and left my dorm room.”
Pittsburgh eventually drafted Foster three rounds later.
Twenty-seven years later, Foster admitted to Steelers.com he always had a chip on his shoulder whenever Pittsburgh played Cleveland:
“One year, I’m not sure what year, we had to play the Browns three times. Two times in the regular season and then we had to play them in a playoff game.”
“All three times I believe I was able to rush over 100 yards to help our team get a little further in the playoff situation. I loved playing in Cleveland at the original ‘Dawg Pound.’ but I always took it personally playing against them.”
Foster told Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan in June 2014 playing for legendary head coach Chuck Noll “was very intimidating.”
He told the radio station he was a staunch Dallas Cowboys fan growing up in Texas. He recalled the times when the Steelers made it a habit to “whoop up” on his Cowboys during his youth.
Rookies make mistakes. Barry Foster was no exception.
Foster admitted to 93.7 The Fan he had a tough time transitioning from the collegiate ranks to the pros.
While he had a decent training camp and season, he still made plenty of rookie mistakes in 1990.
Chuck Noll was patient with Foster through it all.
During a game against the Denver Broncos, Foster made several mistakes that earned the ire of Noll’s assistants. Noll stepped in and intervened at the most critical moment, per 93.7 The Fan:
“I just remember Chuck said, “Hey, back off, he’s a young kid, he made a mistake; he’s doing some good things but just back off of him.”
“I always respected that about him. He just kind of made me feel a little better that even though I am making mistakes, that he supported me.”
Noll used Foster mainly as a kickoff return specialist during his rookie season in 1990.
Because Foster played behind fullback Merrill Hoge and halfback Tim Worley, he had just 691 rushing yards on 132 carries during his first two pro football seasons.
Barry Foster’s 1st NFL TD
Outstanding blocks pic.twitter.com/sof173H5B2
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) June 23, 2021
Foster described that bunch as “a talented group,” per Hartman. He looked up to the big and powerful Hoge and tried to learn the nuances of the position from the way he played.
The Steelers rushing corps in 1990 also featured Rodney Carter, a running back who could catch the ball well.
Foster singled out Carter as the guy who reached out and tried to help him during his rookie season, per BehindTheSteelCurtain.com:
“There was only one guy that stopped to help me: Rodney Carter. He helped me personally. (He) showed me how to understand the plays and practice better.”
“Carter showed me how to practice and run plays. He and (Steelers running backs coach) Dick Hoak helped me the most. The other guys wanted to keep their jobs.”
Foster also benefited from savvy veteran leadership during his time in Pittsburgh. His locker was next to Carnell Lake’s and Rod Woodson’s.
Foster recalled the locker room memories when he went on a Steelers cruise with former teammates Dermontti Dawson and Greg Lloyd in 2016, per BehindTheSteelCurtain.com:
“We had one of the best locker rooms you could ask for. Tons of guys that were funny, talented.”
“Worley was great at impersonating people. (Fred) McAfee was a trip. Gary Jones was funny. We all told jokes and made people laugh.”
One way Foster and his teammates bonded was through trash can basketball.
They’d roll up a ball of coach’s tape and start shooting the makeshift balls in the locker room trash can. Only a few guys were into it in the beginning. However, their other teammates eventually caught on.
“Guys were losing money, getting very competitive,” Foster told Hartman. “It was just a great bonding experience.”
When Noll retired at the end of the 1991 NFL season, it ushered in the Bill Cowher era in The Steel City.
Cowher also brought new offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt (whose offense featured a power running game) into the fold.
Foster noted the Steelers “were a divided team” during his first two years in the NFL .
He told Hartman in 2016 the practices were divided. When the offense made a mistake, the defense yelled at them and vice-versa.
According to Foster, Noll gave the defense free reign to hit the offense during practices. He even allowed late hits to instill toughness in his players.
The new era, along with Worley’s year-long suspension, gave Foster a golden opportunity.
The turning point came during one practice with Cowher, per Hartman:
“After Cowher came in, I remember one day in practice a receiver, I think it was (Chris) Calloway, got crushed by Lloyd. Cowher blew the whistle and yelled at Lloyd.”
“He brought all of us in then – had us all take a knee and told us we can’t do this. It brought the whole team together.”
Foster said the running backs corps in 1992 was thin. He added the Steelers wanted to give him a shot as their No. 1 running back out of desperation.
As fate would have it, it turned out to be the right move for Cowher and Co. Foster labeled the turn of events “blind luck.”
Classic Clip of the Day
Barry Foster breaks Franco’s record
In 12th game, Foster breaks Steelers’ single season rushing record of Franco Harris (1,246 in 1975)
Harris has since been surpassed 9 more times but Foster still holds record, hitting 1,690 by year’s end pic.twitter.com/K38TeXpn1M
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) July 11, 2019
Foster had 1,690 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in the 1992 NFL season. He broke Franco Harris’ previous single-season franchise rushing record of 1,246 yards which the latter set seventeen years earlier.
Not only that, but Foster also tied legendary running back Eric Dickerson’s league record for the most 100-yard games in a season with twelve.
To nobody’s surprise, Barry Foster earned the first of his two Pro Bowl nods.
He also earned UPI AFC Offensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Pro, and Pittsburgh Steelers Team MVP honors in 1992.
Behind Foster’s breakout season, the Steelers went 11-5 and clinched the AFC Central Division.
Foster sought a deal that was similar to Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas’ (four years, $13.5 million) entering the 1993 NFL campaign.
Foster was set to earn $460,000 per season in 1993 and 1994.
Do they know about the Steelers 1/2 bam bam combo
Barry foster 5’10 227
Bam Morris 6 ft 261
Both with some speed pic.twitter.com/N83xbChKz4
— Martin Brian Ansah (@DaAnsahonSports) March 21, 2020
Unfortunately, the injury bug bit Barry Foster hard in the next two seasons. His downfall would pave the way for up-and-coming running back Bam Morris.
Foster suited up in just nine games due to a severe ankle sprain and racked up just 711 yards in the 1993 NFL campaign.
Nonetheless, Foster became a Pro Bowler for the second time in his pro football career.
The Steelers went 9-7 in Cowher’s second year at the helm. Pittsburgh lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card Round, 27-24.
Foster became a member of the University of Arkansas’ All-Century Team in 1994.
Foster had 851 rushing yards despite still being plagued by injuries a season later. Unbeknownst to him, it would be his last season in the pro ranks.
Pittsburgh had a gaudy 12-4 win-loss record in the 1994 NFL campaign. The Steelers clinched their second division title in three years.
Unfortunately, they lost in upset fashion to the then-San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game, 17-13.
Foster was the target of quarterback Neil O’Donnell’s desperation fourth-down heave in the fourth quarter.
Alas, Chargers linebacker Dennis Gibson batted the ball down and spoiled the Steelers’ quest for a fifth Super Bowl crown.
It was the final play of Barry Foster’s short but memorable NFL career.
Classic Clip of the Day
🎤 Barry Foster’s Inside the NFL interview
25 years ago this week…Barry Foster gives candid interview as he surprisingly reveals he doesn’t expect to be back in Pittsburgh in ‘95. Also, he and Eric Green seem to prefer Tomczak at QB. pic.twitter.com/tksVWGEcug
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) December 11, 2019
Foster became expendable with Bam Morris and Erric Pegram splitting carries for the Steelers in 1995.
Pittsburgh consequently traded Foster to the expansion Carolina Panthers.
Regrettably, a dinged-up Barry Foster failed a physical in training camp that led to his release from Carolina.
Foster eventually decided to retire.
However, Foster had a change of heart and came out of retirement when a Cincinnati Bengals rookie running back sustained a season-ending injury during a preseason game against the Detroit Lions.
He signed a $1 million contract with the Bengals in 1995.
To everyone’s astonishment, Foster abruptly left the Bengals just two days later.
It turned out the 26-year-old Foster felt way older beyond his physical age when he had his first workout with his new team.
Foster returned his $300,000 signing bonus to the Bengals, left Cincinnati, and decided to hang up his cleats for good.
Barry Foster had 3,943 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on 915 carries in his five-year NFL career.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 6, 2018
Twenty-two years after the Steelers traded Foster to the Panthers, he told BehindTheSteelCurtain.com he felt surprised and disappointed at the turn of events.
Foster said he carried a $2.5 million price tag in the 1995 NFL campaign. In contrast, Bam Morris’ price tag was worth $500,000.
Foster and Morris had similar stats in 1994 (851 rushing yards to 836 rushing yards) mainly because of the former’s injury issues.
“So from the yardage standpoint, were were the same,” Foster told Hartman. “I thought I’d get one more year to keep my stability there and be kept one more year, but that didn’t happen.”
When Hartman asked Foster what kind of advice he’d give young running backs nowadays, the latter said it’s all about having a team-first mentality:
“It’s hard to give advice now that the game has changed so much. I’d say just make sure you are the best teammate you can be, be committed to the team and enjoy your time. That’s in the end all you have. Enjoy every moment. Enjoy the ride.”
Barry Foster and his wife Teray have been married for 30 years. They have two daughters, Janea and Tamara, and a son, Barry, Jr.
Foster also has a son named Shayne with Cynthia Bailey.
Foster and his family currently reside in his hometown of Dallas, TX. He is a middle school physical education teacher.
“I really like having the opportunity to work with younger athletes,” Foster told Hartman in 2016. “To help influence them to stay fit physically and be competitive in whatever sport they choose.”
Foster’s passion for teaching and coaching has been evident in his post-football career.
He served as the Rhein Fire’s running backs coach in NFL Europe in 2003.
Congrats to former teammate Barry Foster, high school coaching legend Tommy Tice and 8 others on their selection into the 2022 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Great class! pic.twitter.com/BQuklWcC3g
— Tim Horton (@CoachTimHorton) December 11, 2021
The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame will induct Barry Foster in April 2022.