DETROIT (AP) - Barry Sanders gave Detroit Lions fans a reason to cheer at Ford Field on Sunday.
The team announced during halftime of the Lions’ 31-27 loss to the Miami Dolphins that it will recognize the Hall of Fame running back with an eight-foot statue next year.
Chris Spielman, special assistant to the Lions chief executive officer and Sanders’ former teammate, told the crowd that the statue will be unveiled outside the stadium ahead of the 2023 season.
"It is with immense pride that we share the news that we will be honoring the greatest running back in the history of football with a statue in the city we represent," Lions owner Sheila Hamp said in a statement.
Sanders averaged 99.8 yards rushing per game — trailing only Jim Brown in NFL history — and ran for 15,269 over 10 seasons with Detroit. Sanders suddenly retired just before training camp in 1999, walking away from a chance to break Walter Payton’s rushing record.
He was an NFL MVP (1997), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997) and was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 NFL seasons from 1989 through 1998. Sanders, who is a member of the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, was just the third person in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards or more in a season, gaining 2,053 yards in 1997.
"Thank you so much to the Detroit Lions and the entire Ford family," Sanders told the Ford Field crowd, which witnessed the Lions lose their fifth straight game to fall to 1-6. "I’m truly honored and humbled by this. And I got to say, I’m truly blessed to play here in front of these amazing fans and in this great city, where I was drafted in 1989.
"I know the official celebration won’t happen until next fall, but I look forward to sharing that special moment with all these fans and my teammates and Lions nation."