Barry Sanders joins the podcast to talk the Detroit Lions' surprising playoff appearance (1:50), if Calvin Johnson's retirement opened up the field for Matthew Stafford (3:42), how normal it is for players now to retire on their own terms (5:29) and the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year (8:07).
In July 1999, Barry Sanders announced one of the most surprising retirements in pro sports history. Sanders called it quits just days after his 31st birthday. He was coming off his 10th Pro Bowl in 10 NFL seasons, and he was just 1,457 yards from Walter Payton's then-record for rushing yards, which Emmitt Smith eventually passed. Payton (16,726) and Smith (18,355 ) are the only players in NFL history to have rushed for more yards than Sanders (15,269), and they played 14 and 15 years, respectively.
Sanders has long dealt with a reputation of retiring too young and quitting on the Lions. In 1999, what he did was fairly revolutionary. In 2017, it is not. Just in the past three years, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson are Pro Bowlers who announced their retirement at age 30 or younger.
On ThePostGame Podcast, Sanders discussed the Lions' playoff season, Matthew Stafford's first season without Johnson and what it would be like if he retired in today's culture. This excerpt focuses on his retirement:
ThePostGame: You said people react to retirements different ways. I don't think you need me to tell you how people reacted to the retirement of Barry Sanders. But now you see guys like Calvin Johnson, who retire at an earlier age -- Patrick Willis -- does it feel like you have more brethren in that early retirement than you used to, like it wouldn't be as weird if you retired when you did today.
BARRY SANDERS: That's true because it used to never happen. It used to never happen. There does seem to be, I don't know if you want to call it a trend, it's more common now. Each player's story is different. I understand, for instance, like Calvin, I guess he was beat up a lot more than we understood. I know other players had other injuries. Yeah, it is sort of strange even though it's more common. It's strange to see now players are sort of taking their careers into their own hands and walking away at an early age. Like I said before, as a player, you're on a team, but at some point, you do have to make those individual decisions when you're alone, you're having those conversations with yourself and that's kind of what we're seeing.
TPG: I interviewed Peter Schaffer, your former agent, last year and one thing he said to me when I asked him [about you] was, "The simple answer is the main reason he retired is because he could." He laughed after he said that and I asked why and he said well because you'd made enough money, you'd done enough, you could. You'd accomplished everything you'd set out for. Would you agree with that?
SANDERS: I would agree. I would add to that I was at a point and the way I thought about the game, and knowing what it takes to continue to be a top player on a daily basis and just that drive that you have to have, and so that wasn't there anymore in the same way. It's just something that I understood at that point. I knew that I wasn't sort of the kind of guy that was gonna stay around as long as I could. But at the same time, in this game, you never know. You never know how things are gonna shape up or end. It's just that kind of game. I'm just fortunate I was able to have some control over that.
Sanders spoke to ThePostGame on Super Bowl Radio Row in Houston on behalf of Pepsi. In predicting the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year, Sanders correctly called Dak Prescott as the winner, although he has love for Ezekiel Elliott, a fellow running back.
— JB Bernstein (@jbbernstein) February 4, 2017