In 1999, Barry Sanders stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the NFL. He was 31 years old, with no major injuries and had either set or was on the brink of setting every major rushing record in the NFL. With training camp just a few weeks away, Barry Sanders announced his retirement. “I knew that I just didn’t have it in me anymore,” said Sanders.
In 2004, Ricky Williams was one of the NFL’s elite running backs. He was 27 years old, with no major injuries has had rushed for 3,225 yards in just two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. With training camp just a few weeks away, Ricky Williams announced his retirement. “I didn’t feel the passion and motivation anymore,” said Williams.
Each of these men walked away from the game at their peak. Each left their team in a lurch by doing so. All three of them claimed to have lost their enthusiasm for the game. For Jim Brown, there were important social issues and burgeoning film career to turn to. For Sanders, it was life away from the stress of constantly butting heads with the Lions management. For Williams it was freedom to live his life on his own terms.
It’s no coincidence that each of these surprise retirements came from running backs, the most physically punishing position on the field. Each came from teams that were underperforming. Most importantly, each of these men was being asked to carry the entire team on their backs. Without Brown, Sanders and Williams, their respective teams were below average and therein lay the common thread. When a team has a superstar, other areas of the team can be left neglected because the brass knows that the superstar can win games on their own just by virtue of sheer talent and determination alone.
But what happens to a player after 4 or 5 years of this? They lose that determination. The talent is still there, but the will to put your body through the wringer for a team that is either incompetent or careless enough to surround you with mediocre talent just isn’t there anymore. The newspapers in Cleveland, Detroit and Miami may have taken these men to task for abandoning their teammates, but their real ire should be directed at the front offices of these teams. In every case, the player left because they “lost passion for the game.” It’s awfully hard to lose passion when you’re winning Super Bowls.
Take note San Diego; you’ve been forewarned.
Dylan Johnson writes for Seahawks.NET. He’s also well-known as “NJSeahawksFan” on our Fan Forums. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com.(Editor's note: Click here to read Dylan's article about Barry Sanders.)