DO - Barry Sanders: A man of quiet dignity

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Barry Sanders: A man of quiet dignity

2004-01-31
By Berry Tramel
The Oklahoman

Detroit poet Mitch Albom tells this tale of Barry Sanders.

The riddle of a running back once produced what was, even for him, an atypical Sunday. Some crazy yardage total, with the signature Sanders runs.

And in the Lions locker room, poof. No Sanders. Vanished.

By chance, Albom trailed another Detroit player into the parking lot, and there he spied Sanders, heading for his motor car. Albom called out to Sanders, who politely stopped and chatted about his day at the office.

Why, Albom asked, did you leave the journalists thirsty for thoughts? Answered Sanders, “You guys wanted to talk to me?”

Sanders was born on July 16, 1968, allergic to two dastardly plagues: tacklers and the spotlight. Trouble is, fleeing the former ushered him into the latter. This morning, Sanders no doubt re- turns to the NFL glare he left in summer 1999. Pro Football Hall of Fame electors were sure to grant Sanders admission to Canton.

Five years is enough to gauge Sanders’ legacy, which strangely enough isn’t the Playstation-like scats that made the world’s best defenses look foolish on fall Sundays.

The lasting image of Sanders is the pigskin floating gently toward an end-zone referee and its previous owner jogging back to the sideline, seeking sanctuary.

In this age of Joe Horn digging up a cell phone and Terrell Owens pulling out a Sharpie, the quiet dignity of Sanders remains an oasis in football decorum.

Lomas Brown, a Lions teammate of Sanders, said, “God blessed the right man (with Sanders’ talent). He knew who to give it to.”

Mark McCormick, a Wichita Eagle news columnist and Sanders’ friend since boyhood, co-penned Sanders’ recently released biography.

McCormick calls his old pal’s legacy “one of incredible contradictions. That’s what makes him the mysterious person he is.”

Mysterious. That’s the word. We never figured out Barry Sanders.

McCormick lists the contractions.

Sanders was Superman and Clark Kent. The football player with the most flamboyant running style of them all would turn into, after a blown whistle, a selfeffacing, mild-mannered, self-conscious gentleman.

Sanders walked away from a $36 million contract to retire at the peak of his career, saying he didn’t need the money, but since has been spotted at trade shows, signing autographs for money.

Sanders’ Oklahoma State coach, Pat Jones, has spent almost a decade now on the Miami Dolphins staff. He saw pro players at the height of foolishness, countered by the actions of Sanders, who Jones knew well.

“With him, as much as anything, what you see is what you get,” Jones said. “The way he conducts himself is part of his uniqueness.”

McCormick describes Sanders as “normal,” but he is just someone “who’s very uncomfortable with the spotlight. He would almost rather march in someone else’s parade than lead his own.

“It is unusual in this day and age. The way he pulls back from the spotlight is really puzzling to people.”

That’s the result of the ESPN age, when hijinks are rewarded coast to coast before the moon is high. We see someone act in a manner that used to be normal, we think something is wrong.

McCormick says Sanders comes by his demeanor honest. Hard-working, solid parents who raised 11 children with a certain healthy humility.

Don’t act like you’re better than anyone else. That describes Sanders, doesn’t it, especially in his posttouchdown jog?

“Even if he beat you or made you look bad, you couldn’t get mad at him,” Chicago Bears linebacking legend Mike Singletary wrote for Sanders’ book.

“When he scored, he didn’t slam the ball down. He didn’t tell guys that he had made them look bad. And he could have done that, because he sure had plenty of chances.

“But Barry was a quality person with a lot of character, and he didn’t feel the need to prove anything to anybody or show up anybody. He would just go about his business. Thanks, Barry.”

Thanks from all of us.

http://www.newsok.com/cgi-bin/show_article?ID=1169731&TP=getcowboys
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