Lions legend Barry Sanders finally explains why he decided to retire at the prime of his career

Ultimately, Barry Sanders’ reasoning behind his shocking retirement was as simple as the fax he sent the Detroit Lions to inform them of his plans to hang up his cleats. 

Sanders, who stunned everyone when he retired just as the Lions were going into training camp in the summer of 1999, recently opened up on his decision to walk away while still in the prime of his career. 

“For me, just that thing that drove me to play, which is that passion, just wasn’t there,” Sanders said in Amazon’s new documentary on the Hall of Fame running back. “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.” 

Sanders’ comments on the matter in 2023 are similar to the ones he penned in the article announcing his retirement 24 years earlier. 

“The reason I am retiring is simple: My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it,” Sanders wrote. “I have searched my heart through and through and feel comfortable with this decision.”

As discussed in the documentary, there were factors that ultimately led to Sanders no longer having the drive to continue playing. The main reason was that the Lions were 5-11 in Sanders’ last season and appeared to be light years away from being a legitimate contender. The fact that the team had parted with several of the team’s core players during Detroit’s more successful years during Sanders’ tenure didn’t help matters. 

The Lions made it to within a game of the Super Bowl during Sanders’ third season but did not win a playoff game in any of his final seven seasons. While Sanders stayed, he watched as several of the team’s better players during those years left town. Pro Bowl center Kevin Glover’s departure after the 1997 season, for example, had a profound impact on Sanders, who would retire…


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