Barry Sanders on Madden, son, Jim Brown
April, 19, 2013
By Lynn Hoppes | ESPN.com
USA TODAY SportsThe "Madden 25" cover vote is down to two of the greatest backs to ever put on an NFL uniform.Wonder what Barry Sanders' father, William Sanders, would say about the EA Sports Madden Cover Vote.
It's down to Sanders (Old School) vs. Adrian Peterson (New School), with the newest Madden cover athlete being revealed on Wednesday live in New York.
Sanders' father passed away due to complications of lymphoma at the age of 74 about two years ago. While Barry was always reserved, William was not.
When Barry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, his father said Jim Brown, not his own son, was the greatest running back. He, in fact, put his son No. 3 behind Brown and himself.
"He wasn't joking. He was pretty serious. You had to know my dad," Barry Sanders said. "He told Jim many times he was the top player, and I agreed with him. Jim dominated the game and transcended football. I have no problem with that. It doesn't offend me at all."
That quote shows exactly the kind of person Barry Sanders is. He is very matter-of-fact and isn't into hyperbole. He retired from the NFL after playing 10 years, all with the Detroit Lions, and announced his decision in an unusual way -- faxing a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, in July 1999.
Playbook had a few minutes to talk with Sanders about growing up in the Midwest, his family and his return to the public eye.
How often do you go back to Wichita, where you were born?
"I was just there last week. That's where my mom and brothers and sisters live. It still has so much memories for me. I act like a kid when I go there."
Not many colleges offered you a scholarship to play football and you decided to go to Oklahoma State. What was that experience like?
"I was just so glad to get an offer from anyone. Going into my senior year of high school, I had no offers. I started to put up big numbers in my senior year [averaging 10 yards a carry] but only a couple of schools offered me anything. I thought Oklahoma State was fantastic. I loved that small-town simplicity of Stillwater, Okla., similar to what I had in Wichita. All of us teenagers were going through the same things, trying to be adults."
Being retired from the NFL for more than 10 years, you've lived most of that time in the Detroit area, much different than the Midwest.
"I've learned a lot about myself here in Michigan. It's become my home. It's where my family is. I've seen the city go through so much. It's been tough to see the mammoth big three automakers struggle. The global shift in cars has still tremendously affected the city."
Speaking of family, you have a son, Barry Sanders Jr., playing football at Stanford. What advice have you given him?
Courtesy of Corey LongBarry Sanders Jr. will be counted on for Stanford this fall.
"I told him he doesn't have to live up with what I've done. There always is a certain level of pressure. There is no way to escape it. Some people are going to draw that connection between me and my son, but Stanford fans want to see a good team on the field and a good running back. The coaches don't care what the name is on the jersey. The kids across the line don't care who is there. They just want to knock your block off. That's what he signed up for. There is always going to be pressure."
Your son is 5 feet 11. You are 5 feet 8. As a kid, did you wish you were taller?
"I always wished I were taller. I assumed I had to get to 6 feet to be a great football player. Who knows what goes through a kid's mind."
What drove you, Emmitt Smith and Ray Rice to not let height be a deterrence?
"All of us are guys who want to show it on the field. I remember as a kid watching Joe Morris (5-foot-7 Giants running back) and before that Terry Metcalf (5-foot-10 Cardinals RB). I just knew they were smaller than anyone on the field. I didn't know what their height was. They just played so well. I wrongfully assumed I had to be taller."
I assume you wanted to be taller also when it came dating?
"Oh, I didn't mind that part. I had a tall girlfriend. Yeah, I definitely did."
With you facing Adrian Peterson, how big are you into video games?
"Not really now. I do have to play some with my boys. They are fanatical about Madden. When I was a kid, I would go to my best friend's house, and we would play a football game on Nintendo or Atari. I'm not sure. They didn't look like football players. You could tell it was a football field but that was it. I absolutely loved that game."
Are you competitive with your kids?
"I let my kids win. I'm not as competitive as I once was. I just don't want to be out there whipping my 6-year-old, 9-year-old and 11-year-old on the basketball court. I'm not that guy anymore."
But I hear you're competitive on the golf course.
"Yeah, I play every chance I can get. I think it's a big challenge for me. It also helps me relax. I have that bug. I have about a 15-20 handicap. I'm not sure concerned about that. I love everything about the sport."
Besides the Madden event, you now are more in the public eye. That is a far cry a few years after your NFL career was over. You seemed to be a recluse then.
"I don't know why I'm out more. When I was a player, I was more interested in playing and staying focused on the field. After a few years away, I started getting pitched these ideas and I see these as opportunities."
Looking back, how many more years do you think you could have played if you didn't retire in 1999?
"I don't really know. I felt pretty good. I assume I could have gone two or three more years at the same level, barring injury."
The way you left was interesting. What do you think would happen today?
"I thought all that media was bad back then! Imagine all that coverage these days. It would be impossible to pull something like that off."