bHarry Sanders’ retirement from the NFL in 1999 still stings. Jim Brown and Michael Jordan at least pivoted to new activities (interim and, in MJ’s case, baseball for a while) and with their legacies secure. Sanders was 31 years old, had no ring and was about a season away from becoming a The NFL’s all-time rushing leader. When he went to London to escape the press, fax a farewell letter to his hometown newspaper on the eve of Detroit Lions training camp. “Until yesterday,” one fan snorted at the time, “OJ was my least favorite running back, but he only stabbed two people in the back.”
Detroit has had to hit rock bottom time and again and other star players leaving the NFL in their prime – Calvin Johnson, not least, so that fans appreciate Sanders’ brave call. It is the motivation behind his early retirement that has long been so puzzling. TO new Amazon Prime documentary called Bye Bye Barry seeks more clarity, but is ultimately sympathetic.
Of course, there were bound to be challenges in building a film project around Sanders, one of the most understated superstars you’ll ever meet. He wasn’t so much wary of the media as embarrassed by his celebrity status and eager to disappear from view whenever the spotlight became too intense. “Some things are just unnecessary,” Sanders said after taking a leave of absence from ESPN after being selected third in the 1989 NFL draft – between Deion Sanders at No. 5 and top pick Troy Aikman. “I’m not trying to downplay what you guys do, but you have to respect my judgment and my way of being as a person.”
Since then, Sanders, 55, has become a tender figure who is not so serious these days. But Bye Bye doesn’t exactly prepare you for the kind of deep introspection that Jordan and Brown display. in your documents – a real demerit for an NFL Films team that rarely has to worry about access. (Disclosure: I was a college intern at NFL Films during the 2001 season.) During the documentary’s 90 minutes, producers interrogate Sanders under the lights of the Fox Theatre, fly back to London with him and his children, but don’t. I really don’t get much use out of it.
Worse yet, directors Paul Monusky, Micaela Powers and Angela Torma had a winning primer in Sanders’ 2003 autobiography Now You See Me, which delves into her regrets, her loneliness and her true feelings toward her father, William. “Sometimes I wondered if he would ever become the son he thought he should be,” he writes. “One of the worst moments came shortly before the NFL draft deadline, when Dad cornered me and berated me for even considering staying at Oklahoma State for my senior year.”
Without much deep introspection of its theme song, Bye Bye relies on NFL Films’ familiar bag of tricks of soaring musical numbers, celebrity interviews (Jeff Daniels, Eminem) and archival reels – the star of the show by default. Poetry in motion It’s a phrase that’s used ad nauseam in sports, but in Sanders’ case, it really applies. Even now he remains something the game has never seen: a 5-foot-8 Houdini with his own ability to move chains, an escape artist with a talent for evading would-be tacklers before turning on his thrusters. (Think Lamar Jackson on his best day against the Cincinnati Bengals – only further unstoppable in the rush.) Sanders’ ability to run in circles behind the line of scrimmage, going 30 yards only to gain three, made him the king of negative carriesalso.
Like the genius painter or composer, Sanders was much better at letting the work speak than at explaining the strokes. It’s no coincidence that Bye Bye falls on Thanksgiving week, a football holiday that Sanders defined with his ritual carving of my damn Chicago Bears. (“I hope he doesn’t leave before we can give him the turkey leg,” Fox’s John Madden, Thanksgiving Host Extraordinairebroke as the clock ticked by three-touchdown masterpiece in 1997 that moved Sanders into second place on the all-time sprint list). In the Sanders era, when a running back was the cornerstone of the team, no cannon fodder – was head and shoulders above the rest.
At the end of the 1998 season, Sanders was just 1,458 yards away from breaking the all-time rushing record — light work for a guy who was barely a year into becoming the No. 3 running back. run for more than 2,000 yards in one season. “You see the love for the game in Barry’s eyes, in his performance and in the way he carries himself off the field,” said Walter Payton, the Bears god who knocked Brown out of Mount Rush-More of the NFL. “Even if you cheered for Barry’s team, you always respected him as a player.”
Looking back, Sanders’ retirement should not have surprised anyone in light of how often he had shied away from the spotlight in the past, stopping short of snatching a high school speed record or slowing down. the massive attention that descended on him when he claimed the 1988 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State. “Finally a boy won the prize. [based] just pure skill,” Aikman said after UCLA’s charming offense failed to put the quarterback over the top.
“I thought we were going to go head-to-head for many more years,” says Cowboys great Emmitt Smith in a Bye Bye exclusive, recalling Dallas’ crushing loss to Detroit in the divisional round of the 1992 playoffs. Smith ending up surpassing Payton in total rushing yards never sat well with people outside of Dallas. Sanders worked hard for a decade on some truly putrid Lions teams to produce his numbers, while Smith had five more years and a host of All-Star teammates to help him. In Bye Bye, even Sanders laments how far he could have gone with a stronger supporting cast, but he stops short of subjecting the Lions management to another round of withering criticism from his book. As time has passed and emotions have cooled, Sanders’ retirement seems more like the last chess move, with temporary glory sacrificed for his long-term well-being.
Regarding the question, What was Sanders thinking?, the film is happy to leave the task of shedding light on that matter to longtime blockers Kevin Glover, Lomas Brown, Herman Moore and legendary Lions coach Wayne Fontes. In his story, it was watching them and other key companions leave for greener pastures and two further The Lions stretchered into the disability retirement that affected Sanders the most. (The astroturf field inside the very decadent Pontiac Silverdome should have been justification enough to call time.) But I suspect Sanders also felt giddy at the prospect of surpassing Payton the same year Payton announced an irreversible turnaround. bile duct cancer condition – which killed him three months after Sanders’ retirement announcement. If only someone had probed Sanders about all of this in the document, especially now that he’s no longer dodging anyone.
Bye Bye is part of a broader NFL strategy to extend your television domain to the world of streaming and hook the many younger viewers there, ironic given that NFL Films practically invented the behind-the-scenes sports documentary. But to stand out in a new era where documentaries are designed to be as riveting as scripted dramas, well, it’s going to take more than the typical effort that hooked NFL fans watching on ESPN Classic. This documentary doesn’t just seem like a facsimile of one of those old PR jobs—the last thing Sanders would want for himself. The entire production feels a little rushed and overheated.
Sanders has never been a more ripe target for the difficult questions that arose after his sudden retirement. It’s a shame that Bye Bye lets Houdini escape again under the same old shroud.
Bye Bye Barry is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.