A Football Life Barry Sanders
on July 27th 1999
Sandersended his 10 year NFL career by releasing a fax to the Wichita Eagle newspaper this is the first time he has publicly read these words shortly after the end of last season I felt that I probably would not return I also felt that I should take as much time as possible and make sure that my feelings were back with conviction today I officially declare my departure from the NFL it was a wonderful experience to play in the NFL and I have no regrets I leave on good terms with everyone in the organization the reason I'm retiring is simple my desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it I have searched my heart through and through and feel comfortable with this decision today is the best if you one believe it these might be the finest quarterback produce the last at Eureka surveillance that's all Ronnie convinced is a team game nobody can ever tell you I live breathe and bleed Detroit my dad's but season ticket-holder since I was a kid and uh you know it's tough going to those games for a lot of years it was brutal be an alliance fan so but I will say this that very
SandersI mean I was what kept people coming for a lot of years there's if there's
footballfans out there that never got to see
Sandersyou know play the game of
footballlive and it's there's no way to explain it you can watch the highlights and stuff but still just be in there where you get the perspective of the whole field...
and you know watch plays developing and see the way that guy just cut and shoot people just who's insane you can't ask a person in Detroit what's your favorite runner
Barrybecause that would say that you know that was just a handful and you can remember one this guy did something special you know every single Sunday look when I look at players like Jim Brown at one time he was the one of the biggest guys on the field I think he would be different in today's day very
Sandersis a guy that no matter what year you could say 1920 and you could say 2012 he will still be best running back in the NFL any given time there was one person in very
lifewho did not think he was the best running back of all time first I want to say hello to the greatest running back to ever live the number one running back we ever lived he's not with us today I think he's with his family in Los Angeles mr. Jim Brown so I want to say hello am i worth having 30 a 30 second speech I'm awaking quick and now I want to introduce you to the third best running back to ever live
SandersI'm not your friend I'm your father it's a statement William
Sandersrepeatedly told his children he was a hard-working man who could publicly be
Sandersbiggest critic and privately his biggest supporter growing up and trying to understand you know why is he as hard as he is why is he so hard on us there's no doubt about it his his motivation I understand you...
know it was love
Sandersfamily was in Wichita Kansas in a small home that
Barry's shared with his 10 brothers and sisters I never felt that it was that cramped you know either I was in my room where I was outside playing certainly he was a serious
footballfan and a lot of my love for the game definitely comes from him they got some linebackers probably outrun me Levon Kirkland of the Pittsburgh always about 265 he could not run me Willie would express his opinion and you just learned to take it of course I got to know mrs.
SandersShirley and what a sweet lady there I figured out where
Barrygot his grounding from was Shirley
Sandersat Wichita North High the varsity coach Bob Shepler thought
Barrywas not tough enough to play running back so he played
Barryat cornerback I'm not I'm not talking about coach C at North High but he didn't leave didn't throw him right didn't think bear there'd be a great running back he wouldn't play bear to write him back and he would just lose it he would be like you know Gd you know these crazy coaches you should be you need to be running back you know they got they got these you know kids that can run out of sight in a day and you know he was going off on me and I was just you know it's like what did I do and what I remember about that year most is that I was really just concerned not where I you know that I was kinda out of position anything like that I was just...
concerned that I hadn't received any letters to go to college I was thinking man this is my junior year and I haven't seen I haven't received anything from anybody you know what am I gonna do at the start of the summer going into my senior year you know I go go - my dad was kind of explaining to him that you know I really need to concentrate on work it out this summer and getting ready to try to run a scholarship and he just looked at me like he always would you know no-nonsense and said well hey son you're working out is gonna be working with me this summer at that point it was understood that you know when he needed me to work that's that's what I did knowing thing is you know pay the pay wasn't that great but he but but in the end it did pay off entering his senior year
Barrygot a new coach and a new position
Sandersaveraged over 10 yards of carry for the season I had heard a comment from previous coaches that yeah he just wouldn't stick it up in there that did not bother me and his running style was fine with me cuz guess what nobody could tackle it you know I was always at the game on Friday night you know I was that kid that was always here with my dad and so now after so many things that happened I'm the starting running back at North High School and not only that but I'm having a career year at running back I cannot even explain it to you and for me just being on the field playing the game that was where I was at home...
that's that's that's you know really all I wanted to do last game of season we were winning and we against Wichita East and we knew we were gonna make it to the playoffs it was me and another kid that year that was pretty much battling it out for the city Russian title came off the field and I called him over and and I asked him I said
BarryI can keep you in and you can rack up some yards we can try to get that title or I can put two young kids in what do you want to do he said coach look young kids play there wasn't a second of hesitation from that young man left two young kids play at that point because of all the great things that had happened for me just was not that important coming up on a
lifeI remember exactly what he said you know I was Oklahoma's gonna fan well before you were born and I hope you have a good game um but you know that's my team just a few months after worrying he would never get a recruitment letter
Sandershad two offers one was from Tulsa the other was from Oklahoma State who already had an all-american running back in sophomore Thurman Thomas william
sanderswanted his son to go to Tulsa and play right away I love the fact that Herman was there you know I thought it was kind of kind of cool that there was a guy that it had all that success and now I get to go to school with him and you know me for me so my mind was somewhere totally different
Barrychose Oklahoma State against his father's wishes...
that's one of the most difficult days of my
lifeat that point but he was not excited about me going Oklahoma State the morning that Oklahoma State came to see me coach came to the house before school that walks to the front door coach tried to shake his hand he won't he wouldn't shake his hand he walks out of the house and said I think he's making a mistake and he walks out and I was so hurt and confused but but I knew for me that was the right thing to do you know and I was pray that the first time in my
lifeI'd ever you know when against his wishes or what-have-you but you know it was just a very difficult day for me William was also a huge fan of the University of Oklahoma a conference rival of Oklahoma State for my dad took the position that hey look you know I was Oklahoma suona fan well before you were born I'll always be one long before you're gone from Oklahoma State that's my team in his first two seasons at Oklahoma State
Barrydid not start but excelled on special teams in 1987 he led the NCAA in kick return average it was my senior year we were playing getting ready to play the University of Oklahoma embarrass whistle who's the head coach at university Oklahoma says whatever you do don't hurt Thurmond tonight okay and they all looked at me like that's crazy I said you don't want to play against this freshman Mac that they have named
Sanderslet never heard a very Santa Lizzie we have a tough enough time with...
Thurman but you won't ever touch this kid he was tremendously flattering because you know there there's no guy that my dad held in higher esteem and
BarrySwitzer I didn't think I was the guy you know to start at that point Thurman had had a great career he wasn't well on his way to the pros I knew that when he left that I would be given an opportunity tomorrow night at Oklahoma State kicks off the 1988
footballseason the big question in Stillwater and kick returning wizard
Sandersreplace all-american Thurman Thomas in the backfield forty years another it didn't take long for when we get on a bandwagon real quick
Sandershad arguably the greatest collegiate season ever setting 34 records he rushed for two thousand six hundred and twenty eight yards and scored 39 touchdowns in 11 games I would call I had the number two to fill on the field position televise a lot of the games back then so I would call and harvest there they got by 300 yards about for touchdown I'm the kid that remembers all the great college running backs that I study as a kid so for me to find myself in that position it was unreal there were journalists waiting for him on the practice field and that there were people there who wanted to represent him as a professional he was really uncomfortable with this he wanted to go and play
footballhe really enjoyed college
lifeand he just wasn't ready for this kind of intrusion I think people take this game too serious you know...
and the hype and everything is just they make you seem as if you're different than everyone else and that's the main thing
Sanderswas a Heisman candidate but his team was scheduled to play in Tokyo on the day of the announcement live via satellite
Sanderswatched the ceremony the 1988 winner of the Heisman award is
Sandershe felt like he wasn't worthy but he had to go along with it he won the thing and he knew winning it would bring more attention more media scrutiny more media and that's not what he wanted I don't
Barrydon't want it if he wants it he wants this for his father because you know how I feel about him and my friends back home in Wichita itself
Barry's Heisman Trophy still sits in William and Shirley's house behind his father's souvenir Oklahoma helmet coming up the game is so different the
lifeis so different and sometimes you know if you're not careful you can really get lost and all the other things going on ladies and gentlemen I like at this time to introduce to you when the finest running backs in the United States of America and our number one pick
Sandersit's really good to be here in Detroit I feel it's a privilege to be one of the players that will will help restore the roar and the dawn pitch out the very left side the Lions needed a franchise player they need a brand and
Barryhad that flash he had that ability to light a place up buried 45 we had a chance to get to the class...
because we add
Sandersthe absolute x-factor of any
footballteam that could bring you from the depths of despair to the height of joy in one carry 219 yards on 22 carries four touchdowns for
Sandershe called me two times early in his career once he called me who had coached I had a good game Sam ran for 224 yards soon after that I got another call and I Russ it wasn't sure what he was talking about but he did say coach pray for me and I and I knew that media and all that attention it was wearing on him
Sanderscongratulations to you picked a great time to have one of your best games of the year national television on Thanksgiving Day thanks a lot I'd like to thank God and I'd say hi to my family back home in Wichita Kansas okay
Barrythanks very much giving day continues on NBC one of the things I realized in my first couple years is that the game is so different the
lifeis so different and sometimes you know if you're not careful you can really get lost and all the other things going on
Sandersnewfound status as an NFL star conflicted with his small-town persona that was
Barryhe wasn't the one that released that okay here's all the the cameras and all those things go there because you're going to be more visible and more seen he would shy away from that a little bit more with
Barryhe more or less wanted to have it happen naturally he wanted to know the kids in the neighborhood you want to meet the people in this...
community that's something if you know anything about his character now the humility that he has you know you don't do things to you know to try to get recognized for doing something great you do it because you really enjoy it and love it and and you like it but you don't have to make such a big deal out of it well I think his job spoke for this self all play to Mary after you make an amazing run score a touchdown of 80 yards you make eight people miss on one play do you really need to spike the ball whenever
Barryscored he always knew where the referee was boy what a great change of pace to see one of the greatest players in the game going to the endzone act like you've been there before that's part of the job this is what I do thank you very much return around and humbly run back to the sidelines Berry is not a rah-rah kind of a guy he's not a goddess out there he's not a guy that's gonna talk a whole lot unlike myself some saw Emmitt Smith as
Sandersequal in 1991 the two met in the NFC divisional playoff the matter that I was playing against Amon he had certainly made a name for himself at that point and I certainly wanted to put my best foot forward six
Sandershas eight yards for what do you have to do do you want to get
Sandersinto the game or they're giving you the pass well we'd like to get buried the game anytime so you little Locker when halftime and I said
Barrydo you feel badly that you're not touching the...
ball here he goes coach we went in the game no off
SandersI was like saying to myself it's not enough no matter what you do is never know it could be calm right now then a storm can happen in the next five minutes not in a way to bury off the right call it look creased the power was stuck he paused for a second then went back to his left Tony can see is kind of like over ran to play and Tony was standing around trying to look what left which way did he go which way there you go he's behind it I was sitting like Saturn myself he made them like straight up fools I'll tell you what every time we talk about very we say that's the greatest well that's the Touchdown sealed Detroit's first postseason victory since 1957 it was the first and last playoff win of
Sanderscareer you know we talked about we talked about how much I love the game as a kid just the the time I spent fantasizing about
footballand just dreaming up things that I wanted to do on the field certain times almost felt like I could do anything with the ball table so well to read you know the body language of you know of the defender you know and you're almost having on the stream you know you almost have on the stream and as I sort of grew into being a running back there's a certain almost familiarity with it and so those are the crazy things that I would think about and dream about following their victory over the Cowboys in the 1991 playoffs
Sandersand the Lions...
were on the brink of Detroit's first ever Super Bowl appearance you thought it was gonna be better it was really disappointing you thought they were gonna go out there and really play Redskins actually pounced on them and made it a runaway and we just get it handed to us there's such a finality to those playoff games while they are much more special than regular season games they heard a lot more about I'm very disappointed indeed from
Sanderseverybody was talking about that is his lowest Washington in 1995
Sandersand the Lions suffered their fourth straight playoff defeat after a 5 and 11 record the following season the front office was forced to act if you haven't gotten yourself to a Super Bowl there's an empty feeling inside and I can tell you from from this very moment on that that's going to be the direction and the goal of our
footballprogram here with the Detroit Lions I played for coach Ross that University of Maryland for three years I knew whatever we did was going to be successful under his leadership and you know there was a little frustration from some people why are we putting a fullback in the backfield putting more people in the box when we have the explosive running back what is the basic problems with the system the the bad off that's a random ad I think his dad had some differences with me primarily between the one back and the two back very nice spaces to run and he can't he can't he can't have a space...
not overpower the customer the defense is set up to bring it you've got to use wide receivers pepper four wide receivers spared to spread the defense out the start of the 97th season was it was frustrating it was difficult for us after two games
Barryhad a total of 53 yards I remember after the first two weeks in that season just saying you know what is going on here we got off to a slow start and we weren't using him enough I mean there's no question about that we needed to use it more the Lions knew that he was their guy and they got him the opportunity to do his thing in space which is a smart thing and that's why 2,000 yards was a possibility berry went on a streak of 14 consecutive games with 100-plus yards dog sees the best in the business be able to say I saw the best running back in
footballI'm pretty sure early in the season no one imagined I know that would be the year that's really tough to get 2003 hurts I come close a few years prior where I was only 100 some yards away I wanted it but I realized it is it's real time
Sandersentered the final game of the regular season needing 131 yards to reach the milestone at halftime he had 111 yards to go I always had the patience of my mom and I always felt like you know the next one could be the one the 53-yard run assured Detroit a playoff berth as
Sandersbecame only the third running back to break the two thousand yard barrier congratulations to you
Barryit didn't seem as though...
after the first three quarters you were going to have a chance at 2000 developing pumpkins but for
Barry's father Williams but I just needed to focus on the historic accomplishment did nothing to change the status of his son most people no critic no criticism so there will stands and I hung out a lot you know he had that thing about who's the best pilot Jim Brown was son sadness what does that mean to you from your son Jaakko believe me I don't feel good smelling good for the city of Detroit because me didn't go another day they go to another playoff game will he really praise his son that much he was happy but he want to pray he's a let everyone else talk about booze coming up the feeling I had through all of it was that he would be back but that didn't happen downtown Detroit they had a big mural of him on one of the buildings and just signified you know how big he was in this city you played this game to win Super Bowls and when she had a taste of the playoff and you feel like the organization is not moving in that direction and you are the guy and you're risking your neck your body your mind and you feel like they're not putting out the same kind of effort and you lose it it's not fun and once you start picking out a guy's love for the game you lost them there was probably some players and I thought it was a big mistake to get rid of at the time who in while I played with definitely something that hurt those personnel...
decisions that were made as a group organizational decision they were tough I understand
Barrymay be frustrated I was frustrated one year after eclipsing the 2000 yard mark
Sandersentered week 17 knowing that it might be the final game of his career over the next few years look like we will probably be rebuilding and we've gotten rid of see really good players felt like it was time to make a change I knew going in today game that was pretty much it and so I remember after the game I just you know I didn't really say what was going on you know I was I was glad to get out of there the feeling I had through all of it was that he would be back but that didn't happen you know I struggled with it my stroke would it all offseason and really just kind of waited to the last minute he called and said I'm thinking of finally doing it I'm gonna retire he issued the statement which was released through Wichita Eagle newspaper pretty much called the Lions day before training camp and let him know and then afterwards for the next couple weeks gone playing Winston went to London hung out for a little bit ironic
Sandersfather thinks Jim Brown is the greatest running back of all time 34 years ago Brown retired suddenly in the prime of his career ditto
Sandersthe only man who's ever gained 1,000 yards 10 straight seasons will retire Wednesday not with the press conference but with the statement and
Barrywill not be available for comments sometimes...
when people retire it's it's almost an opportunity for their close-up and
Barrywanted to exit you know stage right and he went all the way to London
Sandersless than 1,500 yards shy of breaking Peyton's career rushing record so barring injury this was really just a matter of time before the record was
Barry's as he left town it became speculation on why he retired rumors not on ever coming from
Barrypeople said well need to want to break you know Walter Payton's record I don't know if that's true or not I understood full well who Walter Payton was what he had accomplished not just Walter Payton but all the guys that did it tried to do a lot to did you know the record for me wasn't important enough to to force myself to stay around and to try to get the record I heard that Miami basically had a deal worked out where they it was gonna be almost like a love at Herschel Walker type of deal they want it
Barrythe Lions told him that either you're gonna play for us but he's not gonna play for anybody no no I mean I didn't I didn't hate the Lions um and and I was I wasn't trying to go anywhere else a lot of conspiracy theories and I think people sometime we really like conspiracy theories but in this instance I don't think there are you know had things been different with the team I don't know if I would have made the same decision have we been coming off a Super Bowl victory or a deep run into the playoffs I don't...
know I just felt like I had ran out of steam at that toothy year I just felt like that was my time that was it I had enough I played the game long enough in that that that real drive and determination and enjoyment of the game had left you had a lot of people that were mad at
Barrywhy why I never understood that we're talking about
Barryand his reputation whether it's ruined for good in this town I've got an email right here that says until yesterday Oh Jay was my least favorite NFL runner but he only stabbed two people in the back I would have rather he'd been truthful upfront and he cannot kept his respect and his dignity there were guys who definitely were upset that he had left and there were some guys who felt like he had left the team hanging I would like to say it doesn't hurt and it doesn't bother us but how can you ignore you know
Barrybeing gone and you want to have high hopes and say you'd like to achieve greatness but it's a huge hole missing it's not just any running back it's very for him to give it 10 glorious years the years that he gave that game you know to me I mean how could you be mad at the person for walking away as players and media and people when was the right time for him to do it it's
Barrydon't want a big retirement party you don't want to be on ESPN and ABC and all that stuff I have answered a lot of questions about my retirement but as someone who was a
footballfan I'm pretty...
sure that I would have been disappointed as a fan had Tony Dorsett retired in his prime you know I may have you can shed some tears
Sandersinto second place on the NFL's all-time rushing list no barrier now it was never really one of those things I'm better than you you better than me and I'm better than you out rushing more nah no no no no no no we were friends I watched him it I watched him and break the record I wasn't very surprised that he would get it there's no doubt in any of our minds that berry would have been the all-time leading rusher when you look at when Emmitt Smith ended up getting that honor a lot of people looked at it says see well it's kind of an asterisk beside it you got it because berry no longer wanted to play otherwise berry would be the guy holding that crown if berry would have played 15 years that could have been 25,000 yards and in him and always said yeah I'm glad he retired we wouldn't even be talking about him it eMeter be a second place it's no way that records been so far out there we knew that I think Emmitt knows that that's why they still have these debates in the bars it's not enough no matter what you do is never know and no matter what you do people going to talk about regardless whether it's positive or negative bottom line is what I've done I've done and there's nothing we can do to go back and change I'm 43 years old I'm not trying to get back in the...
uniform and neither is
Sandersso all the ways thinking and all that kind of stuff it's over let it go for me I'm in a special class in that category that's played this game and knowing what I know and seeing what I've seen for me that that's very fulfilling and that's fulfilling enough to be satisfied with where I sit wherever wherever history wants to put me and I'm not gonna argue with them after 10 years of professional
Sandersearned more praise from his father for walking away from the game than he ever did by running with the
footballgod I'm so proud because it it take guts I've done what he did last night today because every guy will not have done it the average
footballplayer would have been trying to set records and trying to hang on to the end and he walked with his career and they really take Goods coming up years after
Sandersiconic image was erased time heals all wounds disappointment his retirement has gone away real fast and now he's one of our own greats today I officially declared my departure from the NFL the reason I'm retiring is simple my desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it I have searched my heart through and through and feel comfortable with this decision
Sanderswhen he says no I was just done and I knew it I believed him completely and fully and
BarrySavior made his home and I think that that is what brought all the fans back and when
walks out on that field when they do alumni day guess the biggest year today Detroit once again celebrates its adopted son the young humble boy from Wichita one of eleven children now has four sons of his own he's done a nice job of kind of blending his parents and the way that he raises his kids a lot of us didn't have our dad in a home mr.
Sanderswas in the home and that was that was a big deal and stayed there and worked hard and was a dutiful father and if
Barrywas at a game or whatever he was there and I see that in
Barryfrom the stands
Sandershas watched his oldest son follow a familiar path with a familiar name as a high school running back
Sandersbecame a top college prospect you know I'm just a proud parent he's done a great job and like his father
Barryonce did BJ
Sanderswas forced away his
footballfuture with family in mind Oh here standing with
Sandersas he gets ready to make this big decision Alabama Stanford of course Oklahoma State were you dad was such a star and then Florida State so
Sanderswhere you ought to play your college
footballhe could care less you know where I went I mean that he knew that I would make the you know right decision we've always had a strong relationship and I think just relationships that I mean that's all you can ask for from a fathers who have you know just a relationship where you can you know talk to him and you know ask him questions and you know him just tell you...
stories and you just you know learn from you know what he has to tell you I've told BJ this before I don't know if he'll be the type of player that I was because I don't think you'll have the type of dad that I had you know I'm gonna do the best I can as a father but I am NOT the man that my dad was and I do remember my dad telling this story I guess he was to return putts and I guess in high school and he didn't like returning them I guess he would let him bounce in front of him or he you know he wouldn't catch them you know out of the air after the game on the ride home my dad asked me why didn't you kiss kissing the punts I was like well daddy I I it was a close game and I didn't want to rub and drop the punt and caused us to move the game my grandpa's
SandersI guess told him you know you can't play this game with you know fear of failure you just gotta you know let the chips fall where they may and especially in the game of
footballyou are gonna make some mistakes you know a lot of times I I did lose yards on a run but it wasn't for lack of trying and I can I can credit William
Sandersfor for that great lesson that allowed me to be a great great player in the be here today what he said about Jim Brown I was never offended my dad was always the biggest supporter I don't believe I'd be here without him he'd always hear people say their child is the best you know and he didn't want to he didn't want...
to ever just do that just because I think he felt like very knew how much he loved him and out what he really thought about his talent and ability you know a lot of people think that he like has a problem better they like the song best but she was very proud of his son mr.