Our exclusive interview with Lions legend Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders needs no introduction. The Hall of Fame running back is instantly recognizable and renowned by everyone.
I got a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Sanders this week. The Lions legend and I chatted over Zoom about several topics, including some of his impressions of the current Lions. Thanks to Sanders for taking some time out of his busy schedule.
The Lions have a new coach, new GM, new pretty much everything. What are your first impressions of what you’re seeing from the 2021 Detroit Lions?
Sanders: “I’m still gaining a first impression, because this weekend the season starts. I thought we played hard in the preseason. I saw some good things. I think we know what we’re going to get from Jared Goff, he’s been a solid player in this league for a while.
I think we’ve definitely got to shore some things up on defense. The last two years we’ve been at the bottom of the league in terms of how much yards we’re giving up. nd we haven’t really been that good offensively.
I would hope that this team has a lot to prove. You look at our division and you have to be ready to strap it up because — whether it’s Green Bay or Chicago or Minnesota, I don’t think any of those teams has gotten worse.”
How important is it for D’Andre Swift to have a former NFL running back in Duce Staley as his position coach and mentor?
Sanders: “It’s extremely valuable to have a guy like that. Duce was a great player, he had a lot of success for many years. He’s coached for a lot of years, been around a lot of great players. He understands what it takes to prepare to be successful and to prepare to win … as a young running back, you couldn’t ask for a better coach guiding you through practices and games. All the ingredients are there for (Swift) to be very successful.”
When you played, Chris Spielman was a Lions linebacker, Lomas Brown was the left tackle, Herman Moore was a wide receiver. All those guys are actively involved with the team. How important is it for those Lions legends to be present and establish a culture in Detroit?
Sanders: “I think that most of the successful teams like to do that. They like to have those players around and identifying with that winning culture and what it means to be a Detroit Lion.
Those guys and myself and many others, we have great pride in the fact we played for the Lions in that era and we don’t take it lightly. We want these guys to have that same pride. When they step on that field understanding that they’re playing for many of us as well as the fans.
I know (Spielman, Moore, Brown) love being there and they have the knowledge and passion to impart to these young players. I think it’s a great thing.”
With the NFL expanding to 17 games and with an 18-game schedule likely coming, do you think your records and legacy of great accomplishments will get watered down because it will be easier for players to post big totals?
Sanders: “I guess it could in some ways. I have to look at the generation that came before mine who played 14 games and even 12 games like what Jim Brown played in. I guess I kind of know what those guys feel like (laughs).
But the game evolves. Because I’m fortunate enough to be in the Hall of Fame where your legacy lives on and people get a chance to see what kind of player you were … I really can’t complain.”
With so much change going on to the team from the ownership on down, what would you consider a benchmark for success for the Lions in the 2021 season?
Sanders: “That’s tough. I’m hoping at the very least for a wild card (playoff berth). I think that would be considered very successful. We have to see how other things play out. I’m not going to say that we’re the favorite for our division, but if we can fight for that second spot and squeeze into the playoffs, I think that would be a big success for us.
Honestly, there are some big challenges for us. Not just last year but the last couple of years we were last or near last in defense and then a below-average offensively. You’re not going to beat anyone that way. I think you have to go in from Day 1 really ready to play. Even with those (bad defensive and offensive) stats, every game is going to be close.
What are those key plays that you can make to put yourself over the top? It certainly helps to have the kind of coaching staff that we have, where everyone played the game and understands what it takes.”
How much do you think it resonates for the players to have so many former players as coaches?
Sanders: “I think it can work either way. There’s a lot of great coaches that didn’t play the game on that level. I think it depends on what collection of coaches you’re talking about. In this case, that’s what we have and for a young team that has struggled, I think it can only help.”
The interview was set up via Pepsi and its new “Made for Lions Watching” campaign that features Sanders. Part of the campaign is a giveaway in conjunction with the Lions that includes officially signed Lions team gear, team store gift cards and an autographed helmet from Sanders. Check out Made for Lions Watching for more details and how you can win some cool prizes.