St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports
TampaBay.com
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
tampabay.com

printer version

A year later, hard to believe he's really gone

mizell
MIZELL
E-mail:
Click here

Archive
By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000


Going to Silverdome, with Lions in mind. Even now, I must cue myself, that Barry Sanders doesn't play for Detroit anymore.

Millions thought he quit too young. Barry was 30. Hundreds of thousands figured it was a money ploy, that once the Sanders wallet was fattened and his ego stroked, the most dynamic running back of an NFL generation would be back.

Tony Dungy told me no. Immediately after Barry's declaration, Tampa Bay's coach said that when No. 20 talks, you'd better believe it. By now, I should know to cease questioning the judgment of Tampa Bay's coach.

T.D. also was right when he said Bucs defense would not suffer without Hardy Nickerson. Then that Booger McFarland, in addition to possessing a bigger backside, had a higher upside than Brad Culpepper.

Remember all the seasons when Bucs tacklers couldn't find Sanders? He'd be there, seemingly in grasp range, then Barry would be gone. Pfffft! Like smoke in a breeze. How extraordinary he was, from 1989 until choosing to disappear in 1999.

Tampa Bay fared especially poorly with Find Barry quests on 11/13/94, when the shifty, 5-foot-8 wonder ran for a Lions record 237 yards. Another memorable Bucs afternoon of Sanders misses was 10/2/97, when he dodged, darted and fled for 219, including a mesmerizing 85-yarder.

Since his mysterious retirement, journalistic blitzers have fared no better than those bad, old Bucs in Find Barry pursuits. He's not prone to appear as a locker-room guest, like Michael Jordan.

Sanders was too quiet, too introverted to surface on Leno or Letterman. He had neither the glib nor gab to become a TV commentator like Dan Marino. Only place I've seen Barry's face was in a creative commercial for a brokerage house, along with Wade Boggs and other jock retirees.

But, a Find Barry update ...

Drew Sharp, a Detroit Free Press columnist, has cornered Sanders as few Tampa Bay linebackers ever could. It seems appropriate, with the Bucs about to visit Pontiac, for me to be writing about No. 20. For years, it was habit.

"I'm done with football," said Barry, who chose not to play past age 30. "I'm enjoying it." Being an NFL has-been, he means. "I like retirement." Although 18 years shy of AARP.

"If I wanted to play football again," he said, "all I'd have to do is show up at the Silverdome." Wow! Can that be true, two seasons after his checkout? Or just enduring self-confidence? Don't tell me Sanders can't twinge with arrogance.

"Can't a man just leave his job when he's tired?" Sanders asked Sharp. "My decision had nothing to do with the Lions. I played 10 years; that was enough. My retirement didn't have to mean anything more than just a person who believed his career was complete."

Rumor was, Sanders had differences with Bobby Ross, who succeeded Wayne Fontes as Detroit coach in 1997. Ross says he tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to telephone Barry. To check the scuttlebutt for himself.

"I told you there was not a problem," Sanders stressed to Sharp. "Why would anyone think there was a problem if they hadn't heard it from me?" Wait a minute, Barry. So why didn't you embrace a Ross contact? It all still looks a bit strange.

Don't expect Sanders at the Silverdome on Sunday when the 2-0 Bucs play 2-0 Detroit in a smashing attraction. He hasn't been to a Lions game since last playing on 12/27/98, gaining just 41 yards in 19 carries against Baltimore. It was a fourth consecutive loss, ending that disturbing season with a 5-11 record.

In the 21 months since, Barry has been only a semi-recluse. He still lives in Michigan. "I consider it home," Sanders said. There have been shadowy appearances in NBA and NHL crowds. When he showed up at a Red Wings hockey game, the crowd booed at Joe Louis Arena.

"That bothered me at first, but I try to not take it personally," said the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma State who is a lock first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer. Sharp wondered if Sanders saw media criticisms as cheap shots. "I can live with it if you guys can," he told the columnist. "Could it have been handled better? Probably. Why worry about it now? It's over."

Barry's admiration for athletic excellence is broad-based. When the PGA Tour came to nearby Grand Blanc this summer, he was there with a gawking multitude, trying to glimpse Tiger Woods.

Sanders, now 32, approached a Woods bodyguard. "Can you introduce me to Tiger?" he asked, with the wide eyes of a teenaged autograph maven. "Tell him," the football icon continued, "I'll carry his golf bag if Tiger wants."

Later on, Woods and Sanders met outside the clubhouse. Mutual admiration was obvious. Tiger is as savvy about almost everything, especially a wizard such as Barry. They talked 15 minutes.

"You know, it wouldn't surprise me if Tiger were to leave the same way I did," said the football fellow. "Gets up one day, believes he has accomplished everything he set out to do, then moves on to the next phase of his life. He is really something."

So were you, No. 20.

Back to Sports
Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
Contact the Times | Privacy Policy
Standard of Accuracy | Terms, Conditions & Copyright
 

From the Times sports desk
  • A year later, hard to believe he's really gone
  • Unintended controversy
  • Not just playingout string
  • Bucs set out on treacherous four-week trip
  • Rays let Angels escape
  • Honeychurch rolls to her second title
  • Captain's corner
  • Heat signs MacLean, Fuller
  • Lecavalier will sit out 2 preseason games
  • Nichol plays onafter 17 others cut
  • N.Y. high school gets DiMaggio memorabilia
  • Bulldogs forced to promote entire JV team
  • Restrictor-plates edict has teams scrambling to adjust
  • Vaughn won't needsurgery on shoulder
  • NASCAR, Loudon police devise fatal-crash plan
  • Oklahoma's Stoops rewarded with a contract extension
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Looking to avoid UT win
  • Ask Spurrier
  • Two world champs lined up within Lacy's first 4 bouts
  • U.S. soccer finds much to like in tie
  • Bucs seek to bury bad mojo at dome
  • Barber second straight Buc to win NFC defensive honor
  • Bucs seek to bury bad mojo at dome
  • Aikman practices, may return Monday night
  • Jags back fumbles away job, gets cut
  • Colombia weighs on Valderrama
  • Hudson swim teams win battle with Pasco
  • Tiger boys just want to have fun ... and win
  • Hot starts put spice back into big rivalry
  • Tourney to test area's top teams
  • Stage now set for long rivalry
  • Largo freshman no longer running scared
  • Big dreams support minitours
  • After all the wins, Tiger still amazes


  • From the wire

    From the state sports wire
  • Jacksonville's Spicer placed on IR after leg surgery
  • FIU-Western Kentucky game postponed because of Jeanne
  • Brown anxious to face old team for first time
  • Dolphins' desperate defense readies for Roethlisberger
  • Former Sarasota lineman sheds tough-guy image with Michigan
  • Rothstein rejoins Heat as assistant
  • No. 16 Florida has history on its side against Kentucky
  • FSU and Clemson QBs both off to slow starts