The Barry Sanders Effect: Why Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson Walks in 2012

Kyle GibbonsAnalyst IIIJune 6, 2011

DETROIT - AUGUST 30:  Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions looks on during a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on August 30, 2007 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo By Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is undoubtedly the most athletically gifted wide receiver in the National Football League today. There is a certain amount of nervousness regarding Johnson's intentions of returning to Detroit after his six-year, $64 million rookie contract ends following the 2012 season. Detroit’s only opportunity concerning a contract renewal lies in their ability to become competitive.

To be accustomed to losing is a debilitating disease. Losers stand idle staring at a problem. Winners look for a solution.

It’s powered by an established culture of losing; it deprives you of your competitive spirit.

I affectionately refer to it as the Barry Sanders effect.

In July of 1999, only two years removed from a prolific ’97 season in which Barry rushed for over 2,000 yards he walked away.

Detroit Lions fans were devastated to say the least. Barry's ominous exit was shrouded in controversy, questions were left unanswered.

How is it that one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL going to retire while still in his prime?

"The reason I am retiring is very simple," Sanders said. "My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it."

Barry Sanders walked away only 1,457 rushing yards short of breaking one of the National Football League’s most hallowed records. A record at 31 years old with a career yard per carry average of 5.0 Sanders was sure to break.

Barry’s father William Sanders says that Barry approached him concerning retirement prior to the ’98 season. “He listens to good advice, and who’s going to give him better advice than his father?” William Sanders said. “I told him to give it one more year. I didn’t feel like he should’ve quit then.”

Had it not been for Ross, William said Barry would have played in 1999 instead of retiring. “I’m glad it’s over with,” William said the day after Barry faxed a retirement letter to his hometown newspaper The Wichita Eagle. “Barry wanted to win, and the team still has no direction because they’re not interested in winning. Every season, they run the same old plays, the same old stuff. He got sick and tired of it.”

Barry refused to elaborate with the media about the abruptness of his retirement.

In his autobiography Sanders said that Bobby Ross was not the reason he stepped away. He insisted that he had a good relationship with Ross and actually praised former Detroit Lions Head Coach Bobby Ross as a great coach.

Several years later Barry decided that the time had come. He was going to elaborate on the precise reasoning in his decision to retire and walk away from the Detroit Lions.

Barry went on to say that “the culture of losing in the Lions organization was too much to deal with” though physically he believed that he could still compete at a high level. He went on to say that it “robbed him of his competitive spirit, and he saw no reason to believe things were going to improve.”

“As you get older, football starts to wear on you. It wears on your mind mentally as well as beating your body up physically. And so if the organization doesn’t look like it is headed in the direction you want it to go in, it can definitely weigh on you heavily. Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith said of Barry’s decision to leave Detroit.

As a kid growing up in Northern Michigan I idolized Barry Sanders. I never wanted to “Be like Mike” I wanted to “Be like Barry.”

I am the most dedicated Detroit Lions fan that I have ever met.

That’s why Barry’s words cut me so deep. Think about it. The culture of losing robbed him of his competitive spirit.

As fans it’s easy to grow accustomed to the culture of losing. Though embarrassing there are no long-lasting ramifications resulting from a 0-16 season.

That can’t be said for the players.

To achieve success in the National Football League a certain amount of determination is required. It’s a career built from the foundation of year-round dedication and perseverance through hard work.

A successful career is most often judged by wins and losses. Great players play to win.

That’s where we come to the bitter significance that “The Barry Sanders Effect” has had on Detroit’s Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson.

Detroit’s stud wide receiver publicly indicated in 2010 that if the culture in Detroit doesn’t change he will look for a new direction. Calvin Johnson said during a weekly radio show via the Detroit Free Press. "Put it like this, if we turn this thing into a winner, I’m happy," Johnson said. "I’ve won 11 games since I’ve been here in four years. Losing definitely sucks and you definitely don’t want to be around losing. You can’t get used to that. I can’t get used to it because I haven’t come from that. I’ve been used to winning. And if this thing can’t get turned around, man, like I said, I’m just going to leave it at I can’t get used to it. I want to win."

Calvin later elaborated stating, "What I meant is that everybody's frustrated, we've been losing for four years but, for the most part, it's just a lot of frustration going on,'' Johnson said. "Everybody here wants to win, we've got a new squad and we're working towards it.''

Calvin has recently expressed excitement in his team finishing the season last year on a four-game win streak.

All the talent in the league doesn’t matter if it doesn’t translate into victories. One thing is for sure, Calvin Johnson is a winner.

Johnson has worked tirelessly in his attempts to effectively contribute in the Lions offense.

Unless Detroit makes a significant leap and can become competitive in 2011, “The Barry Sanders Effect” will take its course, and Calvin Johnson will walk.