“We had a chance to get to the playoffs because we had Barry Sanders, the absolute X factor of any football team, that could take you from the depths of despair to the height of glory in one carry,” Lions radio analyst Jim Brandstatter said.
Sanders' lone playoff victory came in 1991 when the Lions defeated the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 as he faced off against Emmitt Smith.
In 1997, Sanders became only the third player to rush for 2,000 yards, running for 184 yards in the final game to finish with 2,053.
Coming off the Lions' 5-11 season in 1998, Sanders shocked the world by announcing his retirement in a fax to the Wichita Eagle newspaper just before the Lions' 1999 training camp was to begin. Sanders then flew to London to avoid the media spotlight.
Interviewed in his living room, Sanders explained his decision, noting he wasn't trying to go to another team.
“I just felt like that was my time,” he said. “I played the game long enough. The real drive and determination and enjoyment of the game had left.”
After Smith went on to break Walter Payton's career rushing record, Lions fans thought that Smith needed to credit Sanders and his early retirement for the record.
“If Barry had played 15 years, that record could have been 2,500 yards,” said Thomas, a former Buffalo Bills star. “And Emmitt always said, ‘I'm glad he retired.'”
In retirement, Sanders said he has enjoyed watching his four sons play football, including Barry J. Sanders who starred at Heritage Hall High School and is now a freshman at Stanford.