The other day I watched the Barry Sanders sports documentary on Amazon Prime. If you don’t know the name, he was the star running back for the NFL’s Detroit Lions from 1989 to 1998. For ten years he amazed Lions fans with his unbelievable running ability before suddenly retiring at the peak of his powers without so much as an explanation. Considering he was on the verge of breaking the all time rushing record and forever putting his name in the NFL history books, it came as a shock to everyone.
I was still young when Barry Sanders played, so while I knew who he was, I never fully appreciated his talent or his story. Then I watched “Bye Bye Barry”.
In one of the early scenes in the movie, he’s being interviewed during the 1989 NFL draft. They’d spent hours looking for him, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found despite having just been drafted as the third overall pick. As a result, the interviewer accuses Barry of being shy, but Barry said he wasn’t shy, he just didn’t think interviews were necessary. He sounded like the Howard Roark of athletes.
In his first NFL game as a rookie, the plan was for him to watch from the sidelines since the team had only signed him to a deal the day before, so he wasn’t familiar with the playbook. But the crowd wanted to see him play. They kept chanting “Barry! Barry! Barry!” and urging head coach Wayne Fontes to put him in. After halftime the crowd started booing. Fontes went over to his newly signed player and asked if he wanted to play. He didn’t need to ask twice. They gave him a couple of plays to memorize and threw him into the proverbial lion’s den. From that very first play, he electrified the entire stadium and everyone could see he was something special.
The movie is only about 90 minutes long, but it’s got just about everything you can hope for in a sports documentary: an amazing talent, a colorful and amusing father, the ups and downs of a long and storied franchise, and of course there’s the highlights.
I’d always known Barry Sanders was considered the greatest running back that ever played, but I hadn’t ever bothered rewatching his highlights from when I was a kid. The man had moves you just don’t see in today’s game, and as cliche as it sounds, watching him truly was poetry in motion.
The highlights alone make the movie worth seeing, especially if you’re a sports fan, but it’s Barry’s story and his character that makes the movie worth writing about. He’s the rare superstar that doesn’t carry himself like most superstars you see today. He has a level of dignity that is so rare in today’s sports world. You get a glimpse into his mindset, and he is the kind of example I’d want my own children to learn from. Excellence personified. The film also gives you a glimpse into the importance of teamwork, and of teammates, and how those bonds can make the difference between going on, versus moving on.
If you’re looking for a feel good sports movie based in reality, full of people being nothing more than good human beings, I can’t recommend it enough. I hope the world produces more people like Barry Sanders.