By: Drew Hammell
Thanksgiving is a great American holiday for many reasons. It’s a time for friends and family, both young and old to share a meal together. It’s an opportunity to reflect on all there is to be thankful for. In the 90s, it was a chance to sit and watch one of the most dynamic running backs in the history of the NFL.
From 1989 to 1998, Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions bobbed and weaved his way through opposing defenses in all ten Thanksgiving Day games he played in. Rarely did he disappoint – Sanders averaged 106 total yards per game and scored a total of eight touchdowns on the fourth Thursday each November. He was a man on a mission, with his eyes locked in on the end zone on every play.
The ten-time Pro Bowler was never a polarizing athlete. He wasn’t cocky, and he didn’t make controversial statements. He was all business on the field. Every time he stepped on the field, he mesmerized the crowd and defenses alike with his astonishing balance and quickness. And most importantly, Barry Sanders was on his way to breaking Walter Payton’s career rushing record.
After the 1998 season, however, with less than 1,500 yards between him and the rushing record, Sanders made the most polarizing statement of his career: he hung up his cleats and retired. On July 27th, 1999, Sanders faxed a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Wichita Eagle. In the letter, he stated that his desire to leave the game was greater than his desire to keep playing. Sanders left the league with his body in tact, but was in the middle of a 6-year, $35.4 million contract. Everyone was shocked, to say the least.
Some argued he was retiring because he wanted to stop playing before suffering any debilitating long-term injuries, which has become a much more popular choice the past few years for more and more players. Others believed he didn’t get along with his coach Bobby Ross, but Sanders later stated this wasn’t the case. Though Sanders never broke the all-time rushing record and left fans disappointed, he made Thanksgiving an even more memorable occasion for those 10 great years.
Follow Drew on Instagram.