The NFL Network and NFL Films is airing a one-hour documentary tonight on the life and career of former Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.
The documentary "Barry Sanders: A Football Life" covers Sanders’ beginnings as a football star in Kansas, to his college days at Oklahoma State, his 10 years with the Lions and his abrupt retirement before the 1999 season.
Sanders, who ranks third on the NFL's all-time rushing list, retired in the prime of his career and did so by faxing a statement to the Wichita Eagles newspaper.
The film opens with him reading that statement for the first time.
Sanders said in the documentary that he struggled with the decision to retire all offseason, but in the end, had lost the “drive, determination and enjoyment” for the game.
"Over the next few years it looked like we would probably be rebuilding and we had gotten rid of some good players,” Sanders said. “I just felt like it was time to make a change.
"I knew going into (the final game of 1998 season) that was pretty much it, so I remember after the game I just broke down. I didn't really say what was going on. I was glad to get out of there."
The documentary includes footage of Sanders from his pee-wee football days as well as highlights from his days as a star running back at Wichita North High School.
It also focuses of the relationship with his late father, William, who Sanders credits for making him both the football player he was and the man he is today.
Sanders was fewer than 1,500 yards short of Walter Payton's NFL record for career rushing yards when he retired.
"I understood full well who Walter Payton was, what he accomplished," Sanders said. "Not just Walter Payton, with all the guys that had tried to do what Walter did. The record for me wasn't important enough to force myself to stay around to try to get the record."
The documentary also includes comments from former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who ended up breaking Payton’s record after Sanders retired.
Sanders said if the situation with the Lions had been different at the time and he felt like they were going to be winning organization, he might not have retired.
The documentary ends with Sanders' life having come full circle as he’s now in the role of role model and father figure to his own sons as he prepares them for a football life.