If I had to choose my all time favorite team sport athlete of my lifetime who never played for a New England team, it'd be a tough call. First of all, I'll put Pat Tillman in a category all his own, for the obvious reasons. But I'd say Nolan Ryan for sure. I was a big Randall Cunningham guy. Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, but they're on everybody's list. Ken Griffey Jr. Cal Ripken Jr. A few others. But if I had to pick one, it'd be Barry Sanders.
He was the human definition of the cliche' "a threat to score every time he touched the ball." Even on teams that had so few other offensive threats that all 11 defenders were balling out just to stop him. It's also personal with me. If you'll indulge me one quick Fantasy Football story, my friends and I used to do a league (starting in 1984, I am no shitting you) that was based on scoring plays, with points based on how long they were. So running backs had less value than they do in contemporary FF. In 1997 took Sanders with the fourth pick. He had two rushing touchdowns of 80+ yards in the same game. Then had another a few weeks later. That man made me hundreds, while at the same time turning otherwise dreadful Lions games into Must See TV.
Plus, I simply like him. His episode of "A Football Life" is one of the best. For the highlights, sure. But also for the fact he's so together. A self-actualized man with no regrets about walking away from the game within down-wind spitting range of Walter Payton's all time rushing record, completely at peace with his life choices.
And all this is coming from me, a guy with no other attachments to Detroit or the Lions. So it's not hard to imagine how much love and respect he got from their fans. At least it's not hard for anyone except whoever in the Lions organization was in charge of handling the fan mail. [Note for everyone under 30: Fan mail was an ancient form of Direct Message that you wrote down, put in an envelope and gave to the USPS to deliver for you. Your parents will explain.]
Source - The box sat in storage for who knows how many years. Four? Five? Eight? Inside were requests from children all over the United States, of military serving overseas and families searching for gifts for husbands, children and grandchildren. All of the letters were addressed to the same man. He would have responded if he had known the letters existed.
Dear Barry ...
Barry is running back Barry Sanders, the most famous player in Detroit Lions history. He retired more than 20 years ago, but his name remains synonymous with the franchise. Inside a storage closet in the team's practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan, about 150 fan letters were discovered in 2018 by Lions employee Brandon Scott.
"I was surprised," Sanders said. "I was thinking, 'Man, I'm going to have some hate mail in there.' I mean, because of how I retired." ...
But the mail wasn't hateful. Rather, it was, almost to a letter, unadulterated love for Sanders from children who, in some cases, were barely old enough to remember him playing. They were all written after he retired, often addressed to the Pontiac Silverdome, which helps explain some of the confusion in the first place.
How they ended up in Allen Park in a storage closet remains a mystery. And they might still be there if the Lions had not undergone renovations of their facility and Scott wasn't looking for a photo of another player.
The good news, at least for the people who wrote to Sanders that didn't die of old age thinking he had big-timed them, is that he's already in the process of answering each and every one of them. But still, if this isn't indicative of one of the worst run organizations in all of sports, I don't know what is. It's not the cause of the fact the Lions are one of the four teams that have never been to a Super Bowl, and the only one that's been in existence for the entire Super Bowl era, but it is a symptom of the overall incompetence and bumbling halfassery of that assembly line of failure in Detroit.
I mean, look at the 1990s Lions' records. Five seasons with losing records and one playoff win and they were still getting fan mail? Anyone who wrote to them should've had a squad of cheerleaders showing up at their door with a giant cardboard check like the Publisher's Clearinghouse Prize Patrol. And Sanders was practically their only attraction. In 90s terms, they were the Funky Bunch, losing mail addressed to Marky Mark. When what they should've done was assign half their staff to guarding it, hand-delivering it and even helping Sanders right back. If they were busy with that they might have had less time to screw up their game preparation.
Anyway, while this is a perfect microcosm of this pathetic, aggressively inept, fetid turd posing as a pro sports franchise, it's also a reflection of what kind of a guy Barry Sanders is. One of the greats, on and off the field.