In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
As Training Camp begins the Detroit Lions are stunned when their star Running Back Barry Sanders announces his retirement. Sanders who played in the NFL for ten years had been the top rusher in the league, winning the NFL MVP and rushing for 2,000 yards in 1997. The news even more stunning considering he was within reach of the all-time record for yards on the ground held by Walter Payton.
Barry Sanders was born in Wichita, Kansas on July 16, 1968. After backing up Thurman Thomas in his first two years at Oklahoma State, Sanders had a season for the ages in 1988, setting an NCAA record by rushing for 2,628 yards as a junior. The record-breaking year helped Barry Sanders win the Heisman Trophy, as he decided to turn professional, becoming the third overall pick in the 1989 draft by the Detroit Lions.
Barry Sanders quickly established himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL as he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1989, rushing for 1,470 yards with 14 touchdowns. The following season, Sanders won the first of for rushing titles. In 1991 with Barry Sanders leading the way the Detroit Lions won their first playoff game in 34 years on the way to appearing in the NFC Championship Game. Team success though eluded Sanders as much as he eluded opening defenders as it would be the only playoff game he won in his career and remains the Lions only playoff win since 1957.
In 1994, Barry Sanders won his second rushing title with 1,883 yards, also claiming the Offensive Player of the Year award. It would begin a stretch in which he led the league in rushing three times in a four-year stretch. The best season of Barry Sanders career came in 1997, when he shared MVP honors with Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers and again won the Offensive Player of the Year award as he became the third player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards, finishing the season with 2,053 yards.
Sanders followed up his MVP season with 1,491 yards in 1998. After ten seasons, Barry Sanders was second on the NFL’s All-Time rushing list with 15,269 yards. Had Barry Sanders equaled his 1998 output he would have run past Walter Payton’s record of 16,726 yards. The retirement of Barry Sanders is rumored to have been his frustration over the Detroit Lions struggles, as he offered to pay back his entire signing bonus if the Lions let him out of his contract. However, Detroit refused to give up their star’s rights, even turning down several trade offers. As a result, Barry Sanders career was over just a few weeks after his 31st birthday. Barry Sanders would go into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton in 2004.
The decade after losing Barry Sanders proved to be difficult for the Detroit Lions as the endured some of the worst seasons in franchise history, including 2008 when they became the first team to go 0-16 in a season.