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Barry Sanders’ sudden retirement back in 1998 wasn’t a surprise for Lions brass

Lions, Barry Sanders

Although Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders’ sudden decision to retire still raises plenty of questions to this day, it appears those close to the situation were hardly surprised.

Sanders was still at the top of his game when he decided to retire in 1998 after 10 seasons in Detroit. According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, head coach Bobby Ross had already heard rumblings about his potential retirement:

“My actual reaction was, ‘Well, so be it,’” Ross told Birkett. “I mean because I was 50 percent expecting it, so it wasn’t like I was surprised. I think [executive V.P.] Chuck [Schmidt] probably felt surprised, but when you’re that close to camp you got to go ahead and go. You can’t mope about it and you can’t get down on it. You got to stay up. And so that was my reaction.”

Former Lions defensive end Robert Porcher also provided some insight on what may have led to Sanders’ decision.

“He said, ‘Man, you need to go back there and talk to Barry,’” Porcher told Birkett. “And I was like, ‘Talk to Barry about what?’ And he said, ‘Man, he said he’s going to retire.’ And I was just like, I was like, ‘Hell, everybody wants to retire after tonight.’”

While those within the Lions’ organization may have had some time to come to grips with the possibility of Sanders retiring, the rest of the NFL certainly did not have that same luxury. Fans throughout the league were blindsided by the decision, left to wonder what exactly had transpired.

Unfortunately, it appears the damage had already been done from a decade spent mostly losing. Porcher’s comments are indicative of how not only Sanders was feeling at the time, but the team as a whole.

There will always be plenty of speculation regarding how things would have ended up if Sanders played a few more years. Regardless, there is no question he had already done more than enough to secure his place as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.