In 1998 I wrote a story saying that Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders was coming out of retirement and rejoining the team.
I never sent that story to my editors at the Detroit News. But I was convinced Barry was returning because I was on the phone every other day with his father William Sanders and Jocko Hughes, the Lions Director of Security, who Barry often confided in.
William Sanders would talk to anybody. He was the exact opposite of his son, who was quiet and reserved. I met William Sanders at the Silverdome after a game. I didn’t know who he was until someone from the Lions told me this was Barry’s dad.
No way, I thought. This man was so vibrant, so funny and so full of energy. He talked about how Jim Brown and Walter Payton were better running backs than his son and how he was a big Oklahoma Sooners fan although his son played for Oklahoma State.
When Barry retired William Sanders told me he was coming back to the team. He was going to make sure of it. Barry loved his dad and although he was an adult he sought his advice.
The other part of this equation was Jocko Hughes, the loveable security man that players confided in. Hughes was a former Detroit Police officer who rose to Third Deputy Police Chief. When he retired the Lions hired him.
He played defensive end at old Detroit Miller High School where he earned All State honors in football and basketball. Barry often went into his office to talk about the team, his frustrations and his thoughts on the future.
When Jocko became excited his voice changed and he became High Pitched Jocko.
“Mannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn Barry coming back,” he told me a few days after Sanders retired. “Barry loves his daddy. His daddy want him to come back. Barry is coming out of retirement.”
William Sanders and Jocko were on a two-man mission to bring Barry back. They’d flood his voice mail with messages, showed up to his house. They were going to bring Barry back.
So I began writing my story about the behind the scenes mission of Barry returning to football. The two men had me convinced.
“Maaaaaaan you are going to have a really big scoop in the paper when he returns,” Jocko said.
A few days later I got a phone call from Barry’s dad. I knew almost immediately that scoop was trashed. William Sanders voice was filled with resignation.
“Barry is tired,” he said. “He’s just tired.”
Barry Sanders was not coming out of retirement despite the urging of his father.
Sanders wanted to win and he knew he could not do that with the Lions. He was tired of losing, tired of busting his tail with no chance of winning a championships. The yards (15,269 yards) — which places him number four on the NFL rushing list — did not matter to him. Fans were more excited about his breath taking runs than Barry was.
Sometimes Barry would walk off the field after busting someone for 150 yard with the enthusiasm of someone who just finished a cross word puzzle.
He wanted to win. That’s why I’m convinced if the Lions had let him out of his contract or traded him, Barry would have played elsewhere. I don’t know if he would have won a championship, but he’d be the NFL’s All Time rushing leader.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: