Barry Sanders is different. He was built different, he played different, and he quit the game of football different. You can't have one without the other: You don't get the player he was on the field without the way that he walked away off the field. It's who he is.
"Bye Bye Barry" is an enlightening look at and into Barry, the man and the player. On the field he was a dynamo, a turbo charged jet engine blasting through, around and past defenders, leaving them stymied in his wake. Off the field he was quiet and unassuming, and that demeanor bled over into his play. He wasn't one to chase personal records or hog the spotlight for himself. He would perform balletic moves on the field and then flip the ball to the referee in the end zone. No dancing, no celebration, nothing but the performance itself to speak for him.
So when he retired from football in 1999, suddenly and without warning, he left a lot of questions lingering, and a lot of fans feeling burned. Why, Barry, why? But for those who were paying attention, "Bye Bye Barry" argues, the answers were there all along.
"Bye Bye Barry" rounds up a bunch of Detroit luminaries to share their memories of Barry and what he meant to both the city and the Lions, with whom he logged his entire 10 season career, from 1989 to 1998. Actors Jeff Daniels and Tim Allen, fellow players Rodney Peete, Herman Moore and Lomas Brown and Detroit sports figures Jemele Hill and Jalen Rose are all on hand to give context to Barry's story. Eminem is there as well, lending both his song "Cinderella Man" to the production and several F-bombs to interviewers to punctuate his feelings on Barry.
And most importantly there's Barry himself, speaking inside an empty Fox Theatre in Detroit, talking about his life and career and his relationship with his father, William Sanders. It was William who taught Barry humility, it was William who always ranked Barry No. 3 on his list of all-time running backs, behind Jim Brown and himself. And with the way the movie ends with Barry discussing his career and his retirement with his four boys, "Bye Bye Barry" is just as much a tribute to father-son relationships as it his to Barry and his Hall of Fame career.
We get plenty of highlights from that career, of No. 20 under the lights and the massive Marlboro billboard at the Pontiac Silverdome, logging yardage up, down and all around the field. It's not just a career overview, we're given insight into specific games, including Barry's Lions debut, where he sat out the first half while fans grew restless to see the rookie hit the field, all the way up to his final game and his final carry.
And there's plenty on his retirement, infamously sent via fax to his hometown newspaper in Wichita, Kansas just as Lions training camp was booting up, and the shockwaves it sent through the sporting world. To get away from it all, Barry retreated to London, and that trip is recreated here, with his sons in tow, as Barry breaks down the particulars of his decision to leave the game, on a café patio in the shadow of the Tower Bridge.
For Detroit sports fans, "Bye Bye Barry" could be "Killers of the Flower Moon"-length and be all on-field highlights and no one would complain. But directors Paul Monusky, Micaela Powers and Angela Torma offer insight into Barry and what makes him tick. He's a unicorn, a one of a kind, and on the field he was like poetry in motion. We were lucky to have him when we did.
'BYE BYE BARRY'
MPA rating: not rated
Running time: 93:00
How to watch: starting Tuesday on Amazon Prime Video
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