Is This ReallyBarry Sanders' Last Farewell?

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Barry Sanders was a Lion for life, and in 10 seasons with the silver-and-blue he became not only one of the football’s all-time greatest rushers but a darting, dodging Detroit institution. There was, however one tackle he couldn’t break: Detroit’s other institution, losing. So Sanders, apparently, awoke one day and decided he couldn’t do it another year. As his old teammates practiced back home, Sanders flew to London and made clear why he has been incommunicado with the Lions all summer. "My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it," he said in a statement.

Sanders’ frustration with the futile Lions was muted but well-known, and evidently deep enough for him to give up a good chance of becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher in the upcoming season. (He stands 1,458 yards short of Chicago Bear lifer Walter Payton; Sanders has averaged more than 1,500 yards a season in his career.) But many are speculating that this retirement, uncharacteristic of the classy Sanders though it may be, is something like the umpires’ mass resignation over at Major League Baseball — it won’t last — and that Sanders is just looking to bolt Detroit for a team with a chance of winning something. But that’s up to the Lions, who own Sanders until 2002 and have consistently said they would never deal their star, despite fervent interest elsewhere in the league. And without intervention from the NFL office, the Lions couldn't trade him now without taking a $7 million salary-cap hit that would cripple their ability to sign new players, thanks to a massive signing bonus Sanders got with his last contract. If Sanders, his next prospective employer and the league -- great for publicity to have a new all-time leading rusher -- could somehow make this work, it would be one more blow to the dead-or-dying ideas of loyalty and selflessness in pro sports. But it'd also be one of the niftiest moves Sanders has ever made.