Thursday, October 19, 2006

Giants, Unlike Lions In '99, Get A Warning About Their Star Running Back

If Barry Sanders had come to the Lions in October 1998 and said, "You know what, guys? I'm kind of thinking of packing it in at the end of this season. Whaddya think?," you would have seen the biggest courtship and rear end smooching since Randy Smith tried to keep Juan Gonzalez in Detroit as a Tiger.

It didn't go down that way, of course. Sanders bailed out on the Lions, pulling the plug on his career on the eve of training camp in 1999. But the Hall of Fame running back knew, pretty much, when he walked off the field in Baltimore after the Lions' last game of '98 that he wasn't going to play anymore. He has said as much.

For reasons that only he still fully knows, Sanders chose not to clue the Lions in on his plans until it was far too late to plan for his absence for the 1999 season. It continues to remain among the most mysterious of retirements.

Barber: 10 and out, just like Barry?

The Giants have one up on the Lions. Running back Tiki Barber, the franchise's all-time leading rusher, stated publicly that he is considering retiring at the end of this season. How seriously he is considering it, he won't say, although the words "leaning toward it" were used. But he's already told the Giants more with that small nugget of information than the Lions knew until the day before camp in 1999.

"I've been considering [retirement] for a few years now," Barber said during one of those NFL conference calls the league holds every Wednesday. "It comes to a point where your body just doesn't want to take it anymore, you see other opportunities out there. I'm excited about the rest of my life as well as I am about this football season. So we'll see what happens.

"I don't think there are any definites in life. It's too early in the year to say it for sure. But I'm leaning toward it, for sure."

Barber is the league's leading rusher this season with 533 yards after five games. Last season, he rushed for 1,860 yards and made his second straight Pro Bowl. And now he says that this season, his 10th, might be it. Broadcasting might beckon, after all. It always seems to, for the handsome, former athlete. Maybe Barber has what it takes to make it on the tube.

But right now, the Giants have a dilemma, although at least they have some time to deal with it. Make some plans. Some of that contigency stuff that you look into when your superstar runs the idea of retiring up the flagpole.

The Lions were afforded none of that with Barry Sanders, and you can't help but conclude that it went down that way deliberately -- a final dig into the back of an organization that Sanders felt was foundering beyond help. Certainly beyond his help. Beyond 1,500+ yards and the moves of a whirling dervish. For if that kind of contribution wasn't enough to at least put the Lions on the better side of .500, then why bother? So the Lions got what Sanders apparently thought they deserved: a faxed letter of intention the night before weigh-ins.

What the Giants choose to do about their little Tiki Barber situation, nobody knows yet. It's still too early. I'm sure the entire organization is walking around in a fog this morning.

But nothing like the pea soup the Lions and their faithful waded through in the wake of Barry's bombshell in 1999.

The Giants should consider themselves lucky. You never know what those little scat backs are capable of.

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