Barry Sanders helps flip coin for Lions
DETROIT -- The Motor City welcomed back Barry Sanders -- with a roar.
The Hall of Fame running back was serenaded with "Bar-ry! Bar-ry!" chants by a handful of fans when he walked onto the turf at Ford Field about an hour before Detroit played Chicago on Monday night.
After being on the field for the coin flip, the national anthem was delayed slightly because tens of thousands wouldn't stop chanting "Bar-ry! Bar-ry" just as they did at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, five years after his retirement that left some Lions fans bitter in part because he walked away when he was one of his average seasons away from breaking Walter Payton's career rushing record.
He had been booed by fans in the area, most notably at a Pistons game, but they seem to have moved on to hail him.
"I think they're cool with me now from what I can tell," Sanders said before the game in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think we've all had a chance to reflect. I have mostly good memories about good times."
Sanders was surrounded by fans in downtown Detroit, posed for pictures with security guards outside the stadium and was greeted by comic actor Tim Allen when he strolled down the tunnel toward the field. Sanders said he hasn't been to a Lions game in a couple of years and has attended about five since he retired.
Sanders insisted he didn't blame fans in Detroit when they were upset with him years ago.
"They're very passionate here about sports so they're going to have a very passionate reaction when you do something like I did," he said.
Sanders recorded a Detroit-related introduction for "Monday Night Football" after ESPN pulled the "Are you ready for some football?" theme by Hank Williams Jr. He made an analogy that President Barack Obama and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner golfing together was like Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing a round. The network says the intro will change each week.
"I just said some kind words about the town and the team with a script they gave me," Sanders said. "I enjoyed it and definitely considered it an honor to be a part of the overall buzz this team has created."
The Lions won their first four games for the first time since 1980, nearly a decade before they drafted Sanders No. 3 overall out of Oklahoma State.
"It's a lot of fun to see this success, getting a little taste of the fruits of what you can accomplish when you put it together on the field," Sanders said. "Hopefully they'll continue to learn how to win and to stay hungry.
"To this point, though, this team has fulfilled all hopes and expectations."
Sanders' alma mater might have a shot to land his son, Barry Sanders Jr., who the proud father said is also being recruited by Stanford, Florida State and Alabama.
"BJ is a senior in high school down in Oklahoma City and he's looking around at colleges," said Sanders, who lives in the Detroit area with his wife and their three children. "I'm relatively involved, going to a few recruiting trips."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press