BYE BYE BARRY -- The Story of a Complicated Man Who Made a Tough Decision a Lot of People Disagreed With
Review by Dan Skip Allen
I've been watching football my whole life. Ever since I was a kid, I sat with my father when he was home on Saturdays and Sundays, watching my teams play: Notre Dame and the Patriots. I've seen a lot of great players who played for my teams, but one of the greatest ever who played against my teams in college (at Oklahoma State) and the pros (for the Detroit Lions) was Barry Sanders. Bye Bye Barry depicts his great career from high school through his professional career.
Ever since Barry was a little kid, he was great at football. His father, William Sanders, also his biggest fan, ensured everybody knew this. Every coach in the country wanted him on their teams, including Oklahoma, his father's favorite team. He fell in love with Oklahoma State, though, and ended up a cowboy. This was the beginning of his incredible career and the many accolades that followed, including the Heisman Trophy — the greatest honor any college football player could win. The pros were clamoring to get him in the draft. He ended up falling to the Detroit Lions at the 8th pick, and the rest is history.
Barry is synonymous with one of the worst decisions in football when he retired from football as the number two overall rushing running back in history. He only played ten years for the Lions and hung up his cleats. Many fans and sports personalities alike were scratching their heads at this decision. People thought he had so much in the tank. He thought otherwise, though. His teams were that good, which was the main reason he retired early.
The film, like a lot of other documentaries, uses talking heads to get across their opinions of what they think of his decision. Eminem, Jeff Daniels, and Dan Patrick are some big-name celebrities who chimed in on the decision, along with Sanders’s teammates. These are all old friends and diehard Lions fans, so you know they had a lot to say about what he did. The Lions haven't been the same ever since — and not in a good way.
With any film about an athlete, musician, or entertainer, filmmakers tend to use archival footage of the subject they are documenting. That goes the same with this film. There is quite a bit of material of Sanders playing football and making incredible runs, helping his team — even though they weren't that good, more often than not. Sanders had the ability to break ankles, as they say. He is one of the great running backs of all time, and his Hall of Fame induction five years after his retirement proved that.
Bye Bye Barry showed two things about Sanders. One is that he was very humble. In one instance, he refused to get in the game to break a rushing record. The second is he saw multiple players in his career get paralyzed while playing football. He didn't want that to happen to him. He also was a father of four boys. He wanted to be there for them and not be some injured ex-player who couldn't be around for his kids' games and activities. His boys mean the world to him; a framing sequence in the documentary shows that very abundantly. The film gives an all-encompassing look at this man, his career, his decisions, and the rest of his life.
Bye Bye Barry is a film that shows a man who knows what his priorities are. His father raised him right, and he took that into his NFL career. Even though the documentary focuses on fans of the Lions and their futility over the years, the main focus is on Sanders's decision to leave the game he loved at the height of his career. The filmmakers make that abundantly clear. The talking heads and archival footage talk about the fact that this man was a great Hall of Fame player. Football fans should be able to digest this meal quite nicely on the week of Thanksgiving, the day the Detroit Lions played every year.
Bye Bye Barry streams on Prime Video beginning November 21.