WICHITA, Kan. -- Former All-Pro running back Barry Sanders says he quit the NFL because he was exhausted and frustrated that the Detroit Lions' front office did not seem willing to build a winning team.
In a book to be released Thanksgiving week, Sanders recalls openly sobbing on the sidelines on a rainy afternoon in Baltimore in 1998 because he knew it would be his last game.
It was the final game of another lousy season for the Lions, a meaningless 19-10 loss to the Ravens in which the running back from Wichita had a rare fumble.
"I was crying because I knew it was over," Sanders says in the book, "Barry Sanders: Now You See Him ... His Story in His Own Words," an as-told-to book written with longtime friend Mark McCormick of The Wichita Eagle.
As the clock ran out in Baltimore, he said, "It also ran out in my career. I decided they could go on without me."
It would be months before Sanders shared that decision with the rest of the country in a brief retirement statement that only hinted at his true feelings. His retirement shocked the sports world because he was only 31 and on the verge of breaking Walter Payton's all-time NFL rushing record.
Although the statement referred to his loss of will to continue in the NFL, it did not openly criticize the Lions' front office.
Sanders changes course in the book, saying a "communications gap" opened between him and the Lions' front office as the team unloaded quality players.
After working to help Detroit try to build a winner throughout the 1990s, Sanders suffered as the Lions slumped to 5-11 in two of his last three seasons.
"After all these years, I'd come full circle," Sanders says in the book. "It was tough to stay focused and motivated."
The realization that management no longer cared about winning "slammed me harder than any linebacker had ever hit me in my entire career," Sanders says. "That realization trivialized everything I did during the off-season to prepare myself. It trivialized everything I dreamed about from the time I was a kid in
In another chapter, Sanders details the year when he became the third player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. That accomplishment was significant to Sanders, as were others such as reaching the 100-yard rushing mark in 14 consecutive games.
The record he walked away from wasn't as important, he says. Fed up with football, Sanders lost interest in chasing Payton's career rushing record.
"I had already achieved a level of success that gave me much satisfaction and pride. I didn't need to pass Walter to prove that to myself," says Sanders, who remains the third-leading NFL rusher of all time with 15,269 yards.
As for his brief retirement statement, Sanders says he didn't refer to his feelings about Lions management because he "didn't want to take shots at people as I left."
His only regret, Sanders says, is that he didn't include a statement wishing his team good luck.
The 17-chapter book also details Sanders life from his childhood in Wichita to his years as a star at Oklahoma State University and into retirement.
He credits his mother, Shirley Sanders, for much of his success and discusses his often strained relationship with his father.
Sanders, who was with the Lions for 10 years, maintains a home in suburban Detroit. He is involved with American State Bank in Oklahoma, makes appearances at card shows, works with charities and plays in celebrity golf tournaments.