AN EXPLANATORY GUIDE TO SANDERS’ QUITTING

THE PLAYER quits, the theories begin.

So should the laughter.

Honestly, some of the reasons being offered for Barry Sanders’ walk away from football belong in an HBO special. They’re up there with Bigfoot, aliens landing in New Mexico, and pro wrestling’s being real.

Many of these explanations are being spouted by media types who haven’t spoken to Barry since last year. Others come from fans who never spoke to him, period. That doesn’t exactly make for “reliable sources,” does it?

But then, with Barry not around, almost any theory is plausible if you say it loud enough.

Therefore, as someone who has actually spoken to Sanders in my lifetime — enough to know that nobody can tell you what’s going on in his head — I offer the following guide to the theories that will inevitably come up this weekend.

You can choose your most appealing response.

Barry quit because he’s sick of the Lions.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Poor guy.”

Intelligent response: “Maybe. Then again, maybe he’s just tired of the sport, and knows the Lions won’t be championship contenders the next few years, which is all he wants to play.”

Barry quit because he thinks Bobby Ross is a lousy coach.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Well, he is!”

Intelligent response: “Maybe. Then again, Barry played eight seasons for Wayne Fontes and never walked away.”

Barry wants to watch his son go to school.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “What a guy.”

Intelligent response: “Oh, please.”

Barry wants more money.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “He deserves it.”

Intelligent response: “If money mattered so much, why would he forfeit four years of salary and now owe the Lions $7.3 million?”

Barry has too much respect for Walter Payton to break his record.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “What a guy.”

Intelligent response: “Hmm. Interesting. But until I hear Barry say it, that sounds like something from a Movie of the Week.”

Barry never wanted Charlie Batch.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Poor Barry.”

Intelligent response: “This is a guy who endured Bob Gagliano, Rodney Peete, Andre Ware, Erik Kramer and Scott Mitchell. Do you really think a quarterback change alone is going to drive him to retirement?”

Barry had the worst fate in football and he can’t take it anymore.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Poor Barry.”

Intelligent response: “Well, Barry has been to six playoff games in 10 years, won two division titles and gone to one NFC championship game. During that same time: 1) Dan Marino, one of the best quarterbacks in history, has played in only four more playoff games than Barry and never won a conference title. 2) Chicago, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Oakland, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets have all had fewer playoff games than Detroit. Besides, Hall of Fame rushers like O. J. Simpson and Gale Sayers never won championships either. So how is Barry’s fate so uniquely awful?”

The Fords never talked to Barry in person.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Those jerks!”

Intelligent response: “OK. Maybe they should have tried to reach him personally this summer. But Sanders was completely out of touch. And it’s not as if Barry has never spoken to them before. Even one of Barry’s agents, David Ware, says this is a ridiculous notion: ‘Nobody has to kiss Barry’s ring. It had nothing to do with it.’ “

There’s a woman involved.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “There always is.”

Intelligent response: “Next.”

Barry is seriously injured and is hiding something.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Poor guy!”

Intelligent response: “Got an X ray?”

Barry’s father is behind this.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “A man and his father.”

Intelligent response: “Behind what? Next time you talk to Mr. Sanders, ask him the last time he actually talked to Barry about his career. Chances are it will be months ago. William Sanders is a colorful character and a lot of fun, but if he were so involved in his son’s life, then why didn’t he know Barry was going to retire any earlier than the rest of us? And why, as of Wednesday night, hadn’t he spoken to him yet?”

Barry wants to play for another team.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Wouldn’t you?”

Intelligent response: “Maybe. But if he wanted to play elsewhere, why walk away and incur a $7-million debt? Why not set the wheels in motion with your agents and the front office and see what can happen?”

Barry isn’t really from this planet — which explains his talent — and now the leaders of his planet have called him home.

Gullible response: “Good point!”

Emotional response: “Huh?”

Intelligent response: “Now that’s interesting….”

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com Listen to
“Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 6:30-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760).

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