KANSAS CITY, MO., OCT. 14 -- While Christian Okoye and Barry Sanders were finishing 1-2 in NFL rushing last season, Barry Word was working for a telephone company, a prison term on his record, his football career apparently over.
But today, while all-pros Okoye and Sanders were totaling 181 rushing yards, Word was rushing for a team-record 200, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 43-24 rout of Sanders's Detroit Lions.
"I've never had a day like this," he said. "That's why I don't know how to feel."
After spending 4 1/2 months in prison in 1986 for conspiring to distribute cocaine, he spent two years with the New Orleans Saints. He was working in telemarketing last May when the Chiefs signed him.
"I'm amazed," he said. "I knew I was capable if I just got a chance."
In the first quarter, as Sanders's faking and juking helped the Lions to a 14-3 lead, about 75,000 Chiefs' fans were equally amazed. A Wichita, Kan., native making his professional debut in his home area, Sanders took a screen pass from Bob Gagliano and faked out two would-be tacklers on a 47-yard scoring play, his longest as a pro.
"He is the best running back I've ever seen, period," said Chiefs defensive end Bill Maas, who twice sacked Gagliano in the third period, forcing a fumble and recording a safety.
A few minutes after taking a 7-3 lead, the Lions went up by 14-3 when Sanders ended a 60-yard drive with a rubbery-legged 13-yard scoring run.
But Steve DeBerg's one-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Hayes got the Chiefs (4-2) rolling. After taking a 17-14 halftime lead, they controlled the second half, totaling 566 yards, second highest in their history. The 43 points were their most in five years. Word's 200 yards were seven better than Joe Delaney's club record of 1981.
"We got our tails whipped," Lions Coach Wayne Fontes said. "That happens once in a while in the NFL. We played very poorly, and I'm very disappointed in our football team. We were a bad football team, and as a whole we stunk."
Okoye, whose 1,480 rushing yards last year edged Sanders by 10, finished with 91 yards rushing and two short touchdown runs. Sanders had 90 yards rushing and two touchdowns, plus a career-best 135 yards on five receptions out of a run-and-shoot offense.
"Statistics usually get in the way of team goals, and satisfied athletes don't get better," Sanders said. "You have to go out every game and improve."
The big day for Word, from the University of Virginia, came on 18 carries and included a 45-yard run in the third period and a career-best 53-yard scoring run in the fourth.
"This really did not come as a surprise," he said. "I challenge myself a lot out there. Today just happened to be the time."
He scored the last touchdown on a one-yard run with less than a minute left.
The Chiefs scored on Nick Lowery's 21-yard field goal. Chris Oldham took the next kickoff 41 yards and Sanders did the rest. He took Gagliano's screen pass, juked Jeff Donaldson and Derrick Thomas, and ran 47 yards for the score.
Andre Ware made his Lions debut in the fourth period and threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to James Wilder.