Andrew Luck said it hurt on Saturday night when he was booed off the field, just as fans in Indianapolis were learning he had decided to retire. Barry Sanders understood.
Sanders’ surprise retirement from the Lions in 1999 wasn’t exactly the same: Sanders faxed a retirement statement and went to Europe, so he wasn’t around Lions fans until they’d had some time for his retirement to sink in. But Sanders, too, faced plenty of criticism and hurt feelings from fans who thought he should have stuck around.
“It was tough,” Sanders told the New York Daily News today. “But I understood because I had been an avid fan before myself, so I could appreciate certainly where they were coming from: the fact it was a surprise and just that I was — I wouldn’t say in my prime — but I definitely had years left. I can appreciate both sides.”
Sanders, whose son Barry Sanders Jr. got to know Luck on a recruiting visit to Stanford, said he was impressed with Luck’s handling of the situation.
“It’s a personal decision,” Sanders said. “It’s extremely difficult [for Luck]. You could tell, just listening to his press conference. He’s a bright, sharp, young man. He’s got many great options I would assume, but it’s tough for everyone involved. I think he handled it about as well as you could.”
Just as Sanders has been cheered in return appearances to Detroit, Luck will be in Indianapolis. Even if fans at first thought more about themselves, and their disappointment at seeing their favorite players walk away.