Saturday, December 9, 2023

‘Bye Bye Barry’ review: Answering the ‘why’ behind Barry Sanders’ sudden NFL retirement, nearly 25 years later

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Nearly a quarter century has passed since Barry Sanders abruptly retired from the NFL.

In Amazon Prime Sports’ new documentary “Bye Bye Barry,” available for streaming Tuesday on Prime Video, the 90-minute show dives into the reasons why Sanders, a standout at Oklahoma State, stepped away from the NFL during the height of his stardom with the Detroit Lions. 

The history of Sanders’ rise is well-documented, as in other documentaries revolving the former Heisman Trophy winning running back. From his father, who grew up as an Oklahoma Sooners fan to Sanders setting 24 NCAA records his final year at Oklahoma State and his quick ascension to stardom with the Detroit Lions, “Bye Bye Barry” recaps what made Sanders so special on the field. 

With the backdrop of a star-studded cast — featuring actors Tim Allen and Jeff Daniels as well as rapper Eminem, all with ties to Detroit — Sanders’ resume is highlighted in-depth, exploring his 2,000-yard season, a Heisman campaign at OSU and a playoff victory with the Lions.

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Barry Sanders and his mother Shirley Ann Sanders pose in front of his statue at Boone Pickens Stadium in 2021.

Spliced with footage from Sanders during his statue dedication at Boone Pickens Stadium in 2021, “Bye Bye Barry” details Sanders’ life in Wichita, Kansas, his four years in Stillwater and eventually his legendary decade in Detroit.

Former teammates and family members weigh in on Sanders’ impact and personality, painting a glimpse at a man so hard to find. Sanders’ reclusive nature is showcased. Examples include his disappearance for nearly three hours after getting drafted third overall, his unwillingness to ever celebrate touchdowns and a retirement announcement describes only as “Barry-like.”

But “Bye Bye Barry” hopes to achieve more than just recapping Sanders’ life. It strives to answer the question of why the Hall of Fame running back decided to prematurely retire from the NFL at the age of 31.

“Bye Bye Barry” engages his life story for 90 minutes. The rise, the pinnacle and eventually the “why” in intimate detail. 

The usually closed-off Sanders ultimately opens up about the ordeal from the famous Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit — and a pit-stop in London — detailing the multiple reasons that accrued over a decade in the NFL that culminated in a letter of resignation over a fax machine to the Detroit Lions a day before training camp in 1999.

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