PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — Barry Sanders is quitting football, despite the near certainty of becoming the NFL's career rushing leader this season.
"My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it. I have searched my heart through and through and feel comfortable with this decision," Sanders said in a statement released today.
The Detroit Lions running back arrived in London today on a flight from Detroit and said at Gatwick Airport: "I'm going into retirement and I don't see my plans changing."
Asked why he came to London, Sanders said, "I don't know the right way to retire. This is just my way of doing it."
The 31-year-old star he said he would spend a couple days in London before going to Amsterdam and Paris.
He said his retirement statement would speak for him. Sanders' statement was posted on The Wichita Eagle's Web site. Sanders grew up in Wichita, Kan.
He retired without talking to Detroit coach Bobby Ross or anyone else in the Lions organization, but said he leaves "on good terms with everyone in the organization." The team scheduled an afternoon news conference for today.
Sanders will be put on the Lions' reserve list after notifying the club of his retirement. He can be brought back any time this season until Dec. 5. An NFL spokeswoman said he would be ineligible for the playoffs. The rule is designed to prevent "retired" players from joining teams for the postseason.
Sanders could return to football because he stays in top shape whether he is working out with the team or not. However, those who know Sanders regard him as a man of his word, and unlikely to waver once he makes a major decision.
Attempts by his agents to talk him out of retiring have been as futile as a defender trying to arm-tackle him.
"I am not involved in a salary dispute of any kind," Sanders said. "If I had played this season, I would have earned a more than satisfactory salary."
Sanders was a training-camp holdout in 1989, 1991 and 1997, all related to contract negotiations. He has played two years on a six-year, $36 million contract.
Sanders is only 1,458 yards shy of breaking Walter Payton's NFL career rushing record. One of Sanders' agents, David Ware, said the prospect of the record was not enough to get Sanders to change his mind.
"Individual accolades have never been the things that motivated Barry," Ware told WWJ radio in Detroit today. "Money has never been something that motivated Barry."
Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards last season, ending a streak of four consecutive 1,500 yard seasons.
During Sanders' 10 seasons in Detroit, the Lions had a 78-82 regular-season record and made the playoffs five times. Detroit had two 5-11 seasons sandwiched around a 9-7 record in 1997 that earned a wild-card spot.