DETROIT Barry Sanders, who unexpectedly left football five years ago, said even he was surprised to learn Miami's Ricky Williams had done the same thing.
"I'm as surprised as anyone," Sanders said Tuesday in an interview with the Associated Press. "Even for me, it seems very strange."
Williams, 27, decided to retire at the peak of his career, stunning the Dolphins and leaving an enormous void in their backfield less than a week before the start of training camp.
Williams, who rushed for 3,225 yards in two seasons with the Dolphins, phoned from Hawaii to inform coach Dave Wannstedt of his decision, then continued his travels by flying to Tokyo.
"He's pretty young, but he always seemed like football wasn't the most important thing in his life," said Sanders, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in January. "He didn't seem as excited about it as everyone else. I know in Miami, from friends I talk to, they saw him as a savior in Miami. Maybe he didn't see himself that way."
Sanders was the first player to rush for 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons, leading the league four times. In 1997, he was co-MVP with Brett Favre after rushing for 2,053 yards.
Like Williams, he quit on the eve of training camp -- in his case at age 31 before the 1999 season with Detroit. At the time he was within 1,457 yards of Walter Payton's career rushing record.
That mark was broken two years ago by Emmitt Smith.
New York Jets coach Herman Edwards also was surprised by Williams' decision.
"I'm more disappointed for the league than anything else," Edwards said. "You hate to see young players like that end their careers abruptly. He's a marvelous player, the fans enjoy him playing. He decided to do something he wanted to do. Whether people feel it was the right time, that was his choice. He says he's retired but you never know. He can un-retire, too, so we'll see."