Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 8, 2004
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. As I sit here, I have got about a 15-page memorandum I had wrote about Barry. But, I was telling John Elway I was going to change my theme. As I sit here, I see my family. If you want to know about Barry Sanders, you have to buy Barry Sanders's book.
First, I want to say hello to the greatest running back that ever lived, the number one running back that ever lived. He's not with us today, I think he's with his family in Los Angeles - Mr. Jim Brown. So, I want to say hello to him.
And second of all, I want to thank my wonderful wife, my wonderful daughters, my son-in-law. As I look at them, they put tears in my eyes. Not Barry. They put tears in my eyes. Because a man cannot want a better family, better grandkids, better daughters, better son-in-laws. I want to thank God for all them. Better daughter-in-laws. Thank God for them.
Because this is the reason why Barry is here today because of this supporting cast, not so much because of me but because of all these people here, right over here to my left. I want to thank God for them.
There's about three or four families back in Wichita that I want to say hello to. The first family is Jerry Berlin and his wife Dorothy. Jerry's sick and I wish him well. I want to say hello to Bill Cummings and his wife Carol. Jim Harris and his wife Claudette. I want to say hello to them. And, I got a favorite brother back there who's helped me and Barry throughout my life, my brother Mel Chester.
I was supposed to have a 30-second speech; I'm going to make it quick.
Now, I want to introduce you to the third best running back that ever lived, Barry Sanders.
I guess, first off I should thank Billy (Sims) and Lem (Barney) for letting me borrow that magic number (20). (laughs) Also, I apologize, I didn't tell my dad to say that about my book, so let's, you know, be clear about that.
I had the good fortune of being drafted to a wonderful city where, (laughs) where people focus their life around work and business, and work and family and worship. And I fit in perfectly there because when you get drafted, you don't know where you're going to end up. And I can't think of a better place for me than Detroit. Thank you for coming out here.
The fans (applause)... I think about my 10 years there and you don't find better football fans and people who want a winner than in the city of Detroit and they supported us and come out and encouraged us to do the best we could do and I appreciate you.
Speaking of Detroit, I think about my first coach, Wayne Fontes, and Wayne is a very interesting person to be around. He, Wayne, convinced me that I could become a great player and almost... he reminded me that if I kept on the right track and continued to be successful, that I may be as successful as he was as a player. (laughs)
In all honesty, from the first day, Coach Fontes won my admiration and he's a big reason why I'm where I am today. It was great to be around you every day coach, and I don't know where he is... There he is, number 20, right there. There you go. Coach Fontes was supposed to have back surgery, and I'm afraid I delayed his pain by having him come here today, but I'm grateful for his presence.
I also played for another coach, Bobby Ross. I think Coach Ross set a record. The few years he was in Detroit, I don't think he ever left the Silverdome. Because he was that serious about the profession of coaching and I appreciated his guidance.
My road, so to speak, to Canton started in a place that a lot of you are probably not all that familiar with. I grew up in Wichita, Kansas. (applause), As you notice I have some supporters from there. You know I... on the northeast side of town is where I guess I can say the game first took ahold of me.
There was an older group of boys who would go out to whatever vacant lot or someone's front yard or back yard or wherever we could and we'd never have trouble finding a good game of football. Some of those kids you haven't heard of, but I'd like to mention a couple of them. Some of those guys, a lot of them I haven't seen in a while but I haven't forgotten about you: Don Eaton, Tony Hill, Keith and Ken Littleton, Bugs Polite, there's a lot more. These guys didn't have trouble getting up a game. The reason why I could play with those guys, being they were a few years older, was that my brother Byron was a few years older than me. Byron and I were inseparable as boys and so that's why I could play with the older boys growing up. (laughs)
I was fortunate to play with some guys who really wanted to see me do well, and a couple of them are here. My first year in Detroit, I gotta admit the first 3-4 years, I probably didn't buy any groceries because I ate dinner at a couple of my teammates' homes. Seems like I would always conveniently drop by around dinnertime. (laughs) Jerry Ball, thanks for all of the advice, even though most of it I didn't ask for. And Lomas Brown, who... you could get the best sweet potato pie you would ever taste. (laughs)
But my favorite of all is probably Kevin Glover, who all... for all of you young football players and young running backs, always make best friends with the linemen. Kevin is a great person and he truly wanted to see the best in me. And he motivated me, he was a coach on the field and a guy that everyone in the locker room respected, as so I have to give a big thank you to him as well.
I think I have a pretty interesting experience playing football. I started playing organized football at the age of 9, and it was something I felt like I had to do. It was once said that man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills. In a lot of ways, I think football chose me. When I first came in contact with the game, I had to play. It wasn't that I wanted to play, I had to play.
My first year as a 9-year-old was a memorable year for me because I think that a couple years before that, I had been bugging my dad about letting me play and he thought I was too small, believe it or not. (laughs) So he wanted me to wait until I got a little older. I went and joined the team because I went to football practice with an older kid and I had to join up, regardless of what my dad said. I was scared of my dad growing up, but let consequences be what they may, I was going to join the football team.
I played on good teams and bad teams, and some teams I played a lot and other teams I never got in the game. But I was always glad to be part of a team and going to practice and just being part of a special unit going out every weekend or whatever with the same purpose and goal in mind. And in that way, I felt special.
As I got to high school, I entered thinking 'well I'm a little undersized," and I wasn't quite sure what position I would play. I figured maybe by the time I was a senior, I could maybe earn a scholarship as a defensive back or whatever. Fortunately, my senior year in high school we actually ended up getting a new coach. The previous coach was sort of a local legend of high school football in Wichita, Bob Shepler. But coach Shepler stepped down after my junior year and we got a new coach my senior year. For me, that was really a changing point in a lot of ways in my life and what would eventually happen to me as a football player.
The new coach that came in was coach Dale Burkholder, and I know Wichita is going to give him a big hand (applause) and everyone else. Coach Burkholder, he was a great salesman of the things, the ideas that he wanted to do and the things he wanted to accomplish. I can remember coming in the first couple of days of the season and getting ready for the season and Coach Burkholder telling us that if we worked hard and were able to get to a point, we'd be able to run 40 40s (40-yard sprints). I thought, "That's a very interesting way to sell sort of a workout." No matter what we did, we'd always run 40 40s, but he presented it in a way like he was giving us some sort of gift. I don't know if you've every run 40 40s, but if you've never felt your lungs burn, try doing that.
One of the first things he did was pull me and a couple other guys into the coaches room and sort of asked us where we wanted to be at the end of the season. My school was sort of an average school as far as football was concerned. We said we want to make the state playoffs, it was a unanimous decision among the seniors on the team, we wanted to go to state playoffs. It was something we hadn't done in many, many years.
By the end of the year... I'm sorry, by the third game of the season, I was still playing defensive back. Actually, I was playing cornerback and sort of wingback, second-string wingback. And coach noticed that, "You know, I probably should put this kid at running back and see what he can do." The fourth game I started at running back and it was one of the greatest football years of my life, not just because of earning a scholarship to Oklahoma State, but from being around Coach Burkholder, who absolutely loved being around high school kids, coaching football and just being there on the field, getting ready for Friday nights, he absolutely loved being there. He's the type of guy that I would hope my son could grow up to play for, someone like him. So I want to thank you, Coach B, for everything. (applause)
And I've been accused by my dad of being too much like my mom. (laughs) I don't know what to say about that, I guess it's a compliment, maybe, I don't know. (laughs) My dad has an interesting way of complimenting me (laughs), so I'll take it as a compliment. I will say that he did, he did pick a good woman. He did pick a good woman. (applause) My mom is the best person I've ever been around and came into contact with. Some of the things that she was able to accomplish really have convinced me that she must have a twin or a triplet somewhere around. Because after my youngest sister was born, the 11th child, she went back to school and she didn't just go back, she was an honor student. She became a nurse, she worked, and the thing about it, it always seemed like she was at home, so I'm not sure. And that was way before correspondence classes. (laughs) I don't know how she pulled that off, but thank you, thank you mother. (applause) Now, her only downfall is that she knows nothing about football, (laughs)so if you see her, don't even talk to her about it.
In my home on Sunday mornings, it wasn't an option. You knew that you were going to get out of bed and you were going to get ready for church service. We attempted to make it to Sunday school, you know, we didn't always get there. And I want the current Hall of Famers to know that the reason why I was a half-hour late getting to the bus this morning was because my mom was always late to church and I think I developed a sort of pattern anyways.
Sundays were about going to church and coming home to a great meal. That's why I think that the twin came in somewhere, because I don't know how you have a perfect meal prepared after being at church all day. You can ask her about that. Coming home to a great meal, watching football, and often times my brother and I, Byron, would slip up the street. The street we lived on had a small incline going up to some of my buddies' houses, where we played football. Byron and I left home fully knowing that mother may have wanted us to go to church that evening. (laughs) And so, we'd be playing with friends in church clothes just in case my mother showed up in that station wagon. Fortunately for Byron and I, I don't know what year that station wagon was, but it couldn't always make it up that hill on my block. So we got a chance to spend a great Sunday playing with our best friends in the neighborhood.
So I guess that takes me to my dad. (applause) Yes. My dad is truly the reason why I am here. He's a lifelong fan of the game and I can assure you that he's as familiar with the statistics of everyone up here as they are. The only downfall is that he was an Oklahoma Sooner fan and even when I went to the arch-rival, you'd be surprised to know that he still rooted for the Sooners! (laughs) If you know my dad long enough, you know it's not often he changes his mind about stuff, and I forgive him for that.
I can think of the day where I learned a precious lesson from him. My sophomore year in high school, I was fortunate enough to be on the junior varsity and I played a little bit of cornerback and I was sort of the kick return guy, I returned punts and kickoffs. We were just a little bit outside of our town, Wichita, playing against a team. And it was a very close game and the fourth quarter came, and I don't remember whether we were up a little bit or down. But the fourth quarter came and it was close and I was in there catching the kicks, and I wouldn't run up and catch the ball. I wouldn't run up and catch the punts. I don't remember whether we won or lost.
But after the game on the ride home, my dad asked me... because it was sort of unusual, he never really said anything about what I should do on the field, he saved his advice for off the field, and trust me, he had plenty of advice for that. He asked me, "Barry, why weren't you catching the punts?" And I was like, "Well, daddy, it was a close game, and I didn't want to run up and drop the punt and cause us to lose the game." He said, "Son, you can play the game the way it's supposed to be played. Don't be scared to make mistakes. In life you're going to make some mistakes. Even if you wanted to stay in bed all day and avoid the whole world, that's not the answer, especially in the game of football. You're going to make some mistakes. Go out and play the way you're capable of, the coach has you in there for a reason, he has confidence in you." That was some of the best advice I think I've ever gotten, because as a young player you want to do everything right and it doesn't always happen that way. As Mr. Berman pointed out, sometimes I did lose yards on a run, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. And I can credit William Sanders for that great lesson that allowed me to be a great player, to be here today.
In closing, I want to say to the city of Canton, thank you very much, I've enjoyed every moment. Yesterday's parade was the most incredible thing I've ever seen. I didn't think you could get that many people in this town. You guys did a great job. And thank you for also preserving the players here, preserving our best memories from the field. Preserving them for posterity. So thank you for your time, and I really appreciate it. Thank you.