No discussion about the GOAT NFL running back is complete without mentioning Barry Sanders at the top of the list. Sanders, who played for ten seasons for the Detroit Lions, made the Pro Bowl for all ten of those seasons; he also became only the third person in NFL history to rush for 2000 yards in a season, when he rushed for 2053 yards in the 1997 season and scored 11 touchdowns.
Sanders wasn’t just efficient — he was also an electrifying runner, with a 99.8 yards per game career average as well as a career average of 5.0 yards per carry. Sanders never rushed for less than 1100 yards in a season and only twice rushed for less than 1400. He remains fourth on the all-time NFL rushing list with 15,269 (behind only Emmit Smith, Walter Payton and Frank Gore). He did all this regardless of the Lions’ inconsistency at the quarterback position and facing teams who would stack eight or nine defensive players in the box against him. Despite all these insane accolades and no visible signs of his decline in his running game, Sanders retired at the age of 31 in 1999, when he was one season shy of breaking the all-time rushing record. It was a move that shocked fans and sports analysts alike, and one that begs the question still to this very day: Why did Barry Sanders retire, seemingly at the height of his talent?
Although Sanders gave his reasoning for his retirement in a letter to the team back in 1999, the question of why did Barry Sanders retire still remains a burning one to this day. Apparently, Sanders is ready to answer that question in a recently released documentary on Amazon Prime — or at the very least, reiterate his rationale.
“For me, just that thing that drove me to play, which is that passion, just wasn’t there,” Sanders said in the new Amazon documentary entitled ‘Bye Bye Barry.’
“There was nothing really left to play for. I didn’t see us as any kind of a serious Super Bowl contender. … I felt like I was making a pretty clear decision. I just felt like, in my mind, this is pretty much it.”
The reasoning given by Sanders on why he retired are similar to the letter he left upon leaving the Lions in ’99, where he wrote, “The reason I am retiring is simple: My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in in it. I have searched my heart through and through and feel comfortable with this decision.”
Sanders also lamented not being around some of his former teammates, stating that the team he would’ve been suiting up with in 1999 was a vastly different one from the one that he had faced trials and tribulations with since his inception in the league.
“You go to war and go to battle with those guys, you form a bond, obviously,” Sanders said. “Some of the guys that they may have brought in to replace those guys were just not the same, but you’ve got to take the field with the guys you practice with. … Had that group been able to stay together, somehow, we definitely could have done much better and definitely would have won some playoff games.”
What do you think of the reason for why Barry Sanders retired? Do you think Sanders should’ve played for a few more seasons and shattered NFL rushing records or are you content in knowing that the Hall of Famer retired on his own terms after giving what he did to the Lions for ten seasons? Let us know in the comments.