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PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME Sanders' selection is expected

Friday, January 30, 2004

The elusive running back ran for 15,269 yards in 10 seasons with the Lions.
DETROIT (AP) -- Barry Sanders was jogging off the field after a game 13 years ago in Washington when he was playfully wrapped up by Matt Millen.
"He turned around and looked at me like, 'What are you doing?' " said Millen, a former linebacker and current president of the Detroit Lions. "I said, 'I wanted to tell my kids that I tackled you once in my life.' "
Sanders, one of the most elusive running backs in NFL history, is expected to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday after running for 15,269 yards in 10 seasons with the Lions.
"I probably don't completely appreciate the significance of the Hall of Fame right now," Sanders said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. "But it definitely is beyond anything I expected when I started playing the game."
Few expected Sanders to retire when he did -- soon after his 31st birthday and just before training camp in 1999.
He quietly and mysteriously walked away from the game with Walter Payton's rushing record only one of his average seasons away.
Sanders announced his decision through a written statement released by his hometown newspaper, The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle. He then eluded reporters as if they were trying to tackle him for four-plus years.
Two months ago, Sanders had his first news conference since his retirement to answer questions and promote his new book.
He acknowledged the way he retired was "a little clumsy," and shot down many rumors, including the one that the move was a ploy to be traded.
"The press conference needed to be done and it definitely has lifted a burden off of me," Sanders said. "Even though the way I retired was messy, I think most people gave me the benefit of the doubt. I think the press conference confirmed what a lot of people thought -- that I just didn't have the desire to play, like I said was the case in the first place."
When he did play, from 1989-98 -- after winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State -- there wasn't much more he could have done as a running back.
He was the first player to run for 1,000 yards in each of his 10 seasons, and he led the league in rushing four times. Sanders also was the first to have five 1,500-yard rushing seasons, and the only one to do it four straight seasons (1994-97).
In 1997, he was named the NFL's MVP after becoming the third player to run for 2,000 yards and the first to have 14 straight 100-yard games.
Millen's view
"From my era, the last 25 years, there has not been a better running back," Millen said. "Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell and John Riggins were great, but none of them could scare defenses more or make fans hold their breath with excitement like Barry did."
Unlike Denver's John Elway, also expected to be voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sanders played for a franchise with only one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title.
Sanders led the Lions to the playoffs five times and to a win over Dallas in 1991.
"I think I would trade a Super Bowl championship for the Hall of Fame," Sanders said. "I can certainly say it's disappointing to have never even played in a Super Bowl. I feel like I missed out on something."