Arash Markazi

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  • 01:46 PM ET  10.08

Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders lost his sister, Nancy, to a rare form of cancer in 1991.

It’s hard to believe that Barry Sanders is 41 years old. After his shocking retirement from the NFL in 1998 at the height of his career, there are still some people that probably think Sanders can come back with his fresh legs and help out a team.

“Not me,” said Sanders. “I was pretty well fixed in the decision that I made. It was something I actually thought about for awhile. There was never really a point where I was going to return.”

The only thing Sanders never did during his career that he wouldn’t have minded doing was wear pink as many NFL players did last week in honor or Breast Cancer Awareness month. While Sanders never wore pink cleats he did his own part by helping the Noreen Fraser Foundation "Men For Women Now" campaign, by producing a video message, which raised funds for women's cancer research.

 I spoke to Sanders this week about NFL players wearing pink, the Lions finally getting a win and if there’s a running back in the NFL that reminds him of him.  

Markazi: Barry, you’ve been behind the cause for breast cancer research for sometime now but what did you think of NFL players recognizing national breast cancer awareness month by wearing pink last week during games?

 

Sanders: I was pleasantly surprised and really impressed to see the NFL and its players mark this moment and the significance of breast cancer month by wearing pink. We all know that breast cancer affects an alarming number of women and I think I speak for most men on the planet when I say the most important thing in our lives is our women.

 

Markazi: You were personally affected by this personally when your younger sister Nancy died of a rare form of cancer called Scleroderma, how did that change or affect you?     

 

Sanders: I’m constantly changed and affected because of that to this day. That’s not something that you expect. Just to see someone’s laugh taken from them in such a painful and unexpected way. I’m still trying to come to grips with that. How can that be? How can that happen? Where did this come from? You have to realize that it can come from anywhere and can affect anyone at any time. It brought certain sense of reality to my life. It’s not like this affects other people; this affects me and can affect you and show up at your door step.

 

Markazi: When Nancy died November of 1991, you were in the midst of one of your best seasons and the Lions made it all the way to the NFC Championship game. Was it hard to enjoy your success with everything that was going on in your personal life?

 

Sanders: Yeah, I think sometimes you deal with your emotions internally and they’re stored in little pockets and you deal with them as best as you can. You deal with tragedy and you also allow yourself to deal with triumph. I was a lot younger then than I am now and a lot of what I went through will take me a lifetime to get over. It definitely took something away from it. It’s still something that my family and I feel and still try to understand do everything that w can to help others in a similar situation.

 

Markazi: The Lions finally won for the first time in 20 games two weeks ago after going 0-16 last season. Were you able to watch the game and what did you think of them breaking the streak?

 

Sanders: I didn’t see the game because I was traveling. [Laughs] All I can say is that still living in Detroit there was a definite collective sigh of relief from all of us Lions fans.

 

Markazi: You experienced some tough times in Detroit but where you even surprised that the Lions could fall that low?

 

Sanders: I have a lot of mixed emotions. It’s kind of funny in the NFL; it’s not difficult to lose a game. It’s really not difficult to lose a game and it’s not difficult to lose a lot of them. [Laughs] So if you’re not careful and you’re mind is not in the game you can keep losing. Even in the Lions case, I think they may have had the worst record but they probably weren’t the worst team but they were pretty close to it. If you’re not careful and don’t pay attention to detail the losses stack up pretty fast.

 

Markazi: Michael Crabtree just signed with the 49ers after a long holdout and most don’t expect him to make an impact. When you were a rookie you held out until three days before the opener and rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown in that game and ended up second in the league in rushing. Do you think he can have any impact this season?

 

Sanders: I don’t know. When I look back at my life I had been training for the NFL since I was a child pretty much. I was always working out and always running and in shape. That summer before my rookie year although I wasn’t in camp, I was training every day and in great shape. I was mentally preparing for what I would do when I stepped on the field. I was determined to do everything in my power to make sure that I was ready to play. I just had to get there and learn what to do and I was certainly willing and ready to do that once I got signed. It’s going to be hard for him but for me I know it was something that I had been preparing for long before I really understood what being an NFL player is all about.

 

Markazi: Your college team is doing much better, what are your thoughts on your former teammate Mike Gundy leading Oklahoma State back to national prominence?

 

Sanders: It’s been nice to see what Mike’s been able to do. He and I came in together and he has such a great work ethic. He loves the game and is pretty methodical in his approach. He’s going to demand the best from his kids and his staff and I think those of us that know him aren’t surprised to see him do well. He’s very driven and he’s always been a winner. He’s one of those guys you want to go to battle with. I would always want to go to battle with Mike Gundy by my side.

 

Markazi: Did you have a feeling he would be a good coach when you were playing together?

 

Sanders: When I played with him I didn’t think that because I wouldn’t have known what a coach looked like as a kid. But now after several years I wasn’t surprised to see him go into it. It was really a natural fit for him.

 

Markazi: You’re going to be inducted into the Oklahoma State Hall of Fame next week along with Garth Brooks and Robin Ventura did you ever run into those guys when you were at school?

 

Sanders: I never met Garth but I always heard about him. He was like a legend already in Stillwater. All the folks that went out to the bars were well familiar with him. I had a chance Robin and really Robin gave me some good advice after my junior year when I was trying to figure out if I was going to come back to school or go to the draft. Robin had just made that same choice after his junior year at Oklahoma State and I remember him telling me to take my time and make sure that I’m making a good decision for myself. He told me there was a lot of things going on and to make sure I got very comfortable with the decision I was about to make and don’t make it too fast. It was really good to talk to someone who had been in that position.

 

Markazi: Is there a running back in today’s game that reminds you of you or that you would pay to watch?

 

Sanders: I wouldn’t say there’s anyone that reminds me of me, I think there are some good players in the game that I like watching. There are a lot of running backs that are running with a certain style that people might attribute to me but they were running that style long before me so I don’t assume or think that I’m the father of a certain style of running. There are definitely some exciting runners now and LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson come to mind. I also like Stephen Jackson and Frank Gore too. They don’t run like me or play the same style that I did but they’re exciting to watch and I like the way they play football.           

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