ATLANTA – Barry Sanders loves coming to the Super Bowl every year and was especially excited about this year's game in Atlanta because he brought sons Noah, 11, and Nigel, 17, for the first time, and his oldest son, Barry Sanders Jr., is in Atlanta working for EA Sports.
I caught up with Sanders Friday and discussed a variety of topics from Kerryon Johnson and the Lions' run game to Matt Patricia and more:
What did you think of running back Kerryon Johnson's rookie season?
Sanders: "I think (he) looks promising. I thought he handled himself well. I forgot how many games he played, but out of the rookie running backs, he looked as good as any of them, other than Saquon (Barkley), obviously. You would figure that he would be a big part of the plans moving forward."
You've seen a lot of backs come and go in Detroit over the last 20 years, what makes you think Johnson can provide some longevity at the position?
Sanders: "I think he's in a good situation. He's got a fantastic quarterback that he's playing with. You look at the yards he put up, and some of the big games he had, then you would just think he could really be a great addition.
"Obviously, it's just one year, and next year will say a lot because you always have to see how that guy who has some success his first year how he's going to come back the next year and how hungry he'll be, how focused he'll be. His sophomore year is a big year."
How much have you enjoyed this resurgence and focus on running the ball in Detroit?
Sanders: "You know how easy that it is for defenses (if a team in one dimensional) playing against you. If you don't have a legitimate run game, especially if you're talking about – look at the Bears' defense. It's like, come on man, you don't want to be in a situation where you're taking candy from babies."
What did you think of the job Matt Patricia did in his first year, and how hard is it for a new coach to come in and change a culture right away?
Sanders: "I think as a first-year coach you know that it's tough. I'm not going to say it's a gamble, but everyone is figuring things out. But we know he has a great plan. We know he understands how to prepare on this level. I think now he'll understand going into his sophomore year as a coach, I'm sure he learned a lot. Seeing the kind of coach that he's had and the success he's been around , he'll be more understanding of what he has to do next year.
"The great thing that I think Lions fans are taking away from the season is that we beat some really good teams. You've got to think going into next year that we add a few more teams to that list and things are looking good."
Are you enjoying your expanded role with the Lions organization?
Sanders: "Yeah, I am. It's been nice just being around. Just being able to be around some of the familiar faces and new faces. It's still family. I take pride in the fact that I played there 10 years. That was it. That was the only place I played. It's a source of pride."
What's next for you?
Sanders: "Oh man, tons, man. One thing that's cool is just being able to come here to the Super Bowl every year and just kind of take part in the festivities. JB (Bernstein) and Maggie (Boyd) keep me pretty busy. I just shot a Super Bowl commercial the other day. You guys are going to love it. You're going to love it. Just being able to do things like that, some appearances, and doing stuff with the Lions. Honestly, I couldn't ask for much more."
Did you have fun shooting the commercial?
Sanders: "It was fun. You know I'm a little bit of an actor."
Barry Sanders Jr. played football at Stanford, are the other boys interested in football?
Sanders: "Noah played this year. Nigel played. He's a senior (in high school), so his last year playing was his sophomore year, but he's played before. I go back and forth and we're careful, but the great thing is now there's so much awareness at every level. So, they are at least trying to protect the kids. As a parent, there is concern, but yeah, they've had a chance to play youth football."