Extending an olive branch
Millen has spoken with Sanders about possible return
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Matt Millen did what Bobby Ross couldn't.
Millen, the Detroit Lions president and CEO, talked to Barry Sanders last weekend to see if the former star running back is interested in coming out of retirement.
Ross, who resigned as Detroit's head coach in the middle of last season, wrote Sanders a few letters after his surprising retirement just before the 1999 season.
But Ross was never able to actually talk to Sanders.
"If there's a spark there, let's talk about it," Millen said he told Sanders. "If not, I'll pat you on the back because there's always a place for you in the Lions' organization."
Sanders never held a news conference after retiring, but he indicated that his desire to retire was greater than his desire to play. He retired as the NFL's second all-time rusher, just 1,458 yards short of Walter Payton's record of 16,726 yards.
Sanders, who lives in the Detroit area, could not be reached for comment.
His agent, David Ware, said he hadn't spoken to Sanders, so he can't say what he plans to do.
"I don't think he ruled out anything," Ware said. "Detroit's the only place he ever played. ... surely there's got to be some way to repair the breach."
Lions vice chairman William Clay Ford Jr. also hopes so.
"Obviously, there were some hard feelings," he said. "I'd like to put those behind us."
In 1997, Sanders signed a six-year contract, which included an $11 million signing bonus. An NFL arbitrator ruled in February that Sanders must pay back one-sixth of his signing bonus for each year he fails to play under the terms of his six-year contract.
Ford Jr. acknowledges that there would be obstacles to overcome if Sanders wanted to come back, including the fact that the Lions are paying James Stewart $5 million a year.
"But if Barry wants to come back, we'll make that happen," he said. "[Millen] would love to have Barry back and I would love to have Barry back. ... We want him involved in any way he wants to be."
Millen said bringing Sanders back - as a player, an interested former player as a front-office official - would accomplish one of his goals.
"One of the things we have to do is restore the tradition and restore the pride," Millen said. "This is a great organization."