Barry Sanders won the Heisman in 1988 and became an Oklahoma State legend.
TULSA — Barry Sanders paused for just a moment, then immediately realized his opportunity.
Just like when he played, he quickly and decisively seized that moment and left his audience applauding.
But this wasn’t a football field.
This was Tulsa’s Cox Business Center.
And it wasn’t a game. It was a Q&A, “Chalk Talk,” with a bunch of kids as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest tour.
One inquiring mind asked about Sanders’ son, Barry J. Sanders, and his future following in his dad’s footsteps as an Oklahoma State running back this year after transferring from Stanford.
“Are you worried,” the kid asked, “about your son breaking your single-season rushing record at OSU?”
Sanders isn’t known for levity, but once again, he deftly darted through the hole and scored untouched.
“What I would say to that is, ‘Go ahead, son, knock yourself out,’ ” Sanders replied. “That’d be great if he was able to do that. More power to him.
“Are you predicting that’s what he will do, or what?”
Sanders rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns during his 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions, but in these parts, he’ll always be a Cowboy. His school record of 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns in 1988 will never be touched, not by Barry J. or anyone else in Stillwater.
Sanders entertained and informed the crowd for some 45 minutes, opening up about how difficult it was to get noticed as a 170-pound wingback in Wichita, how his dad wished he could have been a Sooner and how he laments not winning a Super Bowl.
“I grew up in a household where my dad, he was a big fan of that other school in the state,” Sanders said. “The other school. The school in Norman.
“I wasn’t heavily recruited. So for me, there were three schools I was considering: Oklahoma State, Iowa State and actually, believe it or not, the University of Tulsa. Those are the three places I took recruiting trips.
“My dad really wanted me to come to Tulsa,” Sanders continued. “He really wanted me to come to Tulsa because, I guess, the coach who was recruiting me there really did a good job of selling my dad. And this is why: at that time, Tulsa, they had a good program, but the basic selling point was, ‘He’ll come here and play immediately.’ Oklahoma State, they had, I don’t know, 8-10 running backs on the roster. My dad was like, ‘Pfft, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.’ In my mind, I’m thinking, I’m just glad I got a scholarship anywhere.”
Sanders, 47, wore his gold Hall of Fame blazer as he took questions from the crowd.
One youngster, perhaps educated by his parents, or perhaps steeped in both Detroit Lions current events (star wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s sudden and unexpected retirement last week) and recent history (Sanders’ own decision to step away while still at the top of his game just days before the 1999 season), asked the question Sanders probably wanted to avoid.
“Why didn’t you play football longer?”
“Why didn’t I play football longer,” Sanders echoed. “He’s not with the media, is he?
“It’s hard to explain sometimes. But I realized at the end of my career of playing in the NFL that, really, the drive and desire to continue to play at that level wasn’t there anymore and it was time for me to retire. It was a tough decision because I had played all my life and I really loved playing. But I realized that even though I still loved the game, I didn’t love playing enough to continue to play.”