10 Biggest Questions From The Barry Sanders Documentary, Answered


  • Barry Sanders retired at the height of his abilities, leaving everyone wanting more.
  • Despite his greatness, Sanders was humble and never sought individual accolades.
  • Sanders had the potential to break Walter Payton’s rushing record if he had continued playing.

The documentary Bye Bye Barry answers many questions about legendary NFL running back Barry Sanders, who had one of the most illustrious careers in the history of professional sports but also retired in one of the most controversial manners that an athlete has ever done. Despite still being very much at the height of his abilities as a running back, Sanders abruptly quit the NFL at the age of 31, just before the 1999 season was about to start. Most athletes who make it to the professional level retire when they can’t play anymore, but Sanders left everyone wanting more.

Even so, Sanders is still considered one of the best players in NFL history. What is most stupefying about his playing days was that, despite being one of the most special talents ever to join the NFL, he was as far from cocky as a professional athlete could get. He never liked the attention he received from winning awards, he never rubbed it in anyone’s face when he displayed how good he was, and he never put himself in front of his team. That’s what made his hasty retirement in 1999 all the more heartbreaking, knowing that he could still play at a high level.

Related: What Happened To Barry Sanders After He Retired From The NFL

10 What Year Did Barry Sanders Win The Heisman Trophy?

Barry Sanders holding the Heisman Trophy

As a junior playing for Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in 1988, beating out the now-legendary quarterback Troy Aikman. However, it was abundantly clear that Sanders didn’t take much interest in winning the Heisman. Not because he thought he was better than winning a Heisman award, but because he didn’t care much about individual accolades as a player. This became a running theme throughout Sanders’s NFL career as well.

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9 What Was The Most Yards Barry Sanders Rushed In A Season?

Barry Sanders Accomplished A Rare Feat For A Running Back

Barry Sanders held up inside a football stadium with microphones around him

In the last game of the 1997 season, Barry Sanders eclipsed the 2,000 rushing yards mark. At the time, that made him only the third running back in NFL history to run for that many yards, joining the likes of OJ Simpson, who first accomplished the feat in 1973 with the Buffalo Bills, and Eric Dickerson, who accomplished the feat in 1984 with the Los Angeles Rams. Sanders rushed for the most yards of his career in 1997, going for 2,053 yards in total. This impressive outing made it all the more baffling that he retired just two years later.

8 Who Was Barry Sanders Compared To Growing Up?

Barry Sanders Was Compared To One Legendary Running Back

According to the documentary Bye Bye Barry, Barry Sanders’s father often compared him to one other legendary NFL running back. William Sanders told his son growing up that no matter how good he was, he would never be as good as Jim Brown. As it turned out, Brown also retired from the NFL at a young age despite receiving accolade after accolade, much like Sanders. Brown reinvented himself as a successful actor and civil rights activist after playing in the NFL for eight years. Sanders, on the other hand, kept a low profile after retiring from the NFL in 1999.

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7 Which Colleges Sought To Recruit Barry Sanders?

According To Sanders, Three Universities Wanted Him

Barry Sanders says in Bye Bye Barry that three universities tried to recruit him to play for their football teams: Iowa State, The University of Tulsa, and Oklahoma State. Sanders ultimately went to Oklahoma State, where he became one of the university’s most legendary players. It was established that Tulsa truly pushed for Sanders, but despite their efforts, his heart was dead set on playing for Oklahoma State.

6 Did Barry Sanders Ever Win A Super Bowl?

The Lions Reached The Playoffs Multiple Times With Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders rushes against the Minnesota Vikings

Despite Barry Sanders’s individual greatness, the Detroit Lions never reached the Super Bowl when they had him on the team. The closest they came to the Super Bowl was during Sanders’s third season with the team, in 1991, when they made the NFC Championship Game. The Lions lost to the Washington Redskins, who went on to win the Super Bowl. The Lions made the playoffs four more times with Sanders on the team, but they never advanced past the Wild Card round.

5 Whose Rushing Record Did Barry Sanders Just Fall Short Of Breaking?

Had Barry Sanders Kept Playing, He May Have Set A New Record

Upon retirement, Barry Sanders had rushed for 15,269 yards total, being 1,457 yards short of breaking Walter Payton’s record of 16,726. Since Sanders never finished a season below 1,000 yards rushing-wise, it’s fair to say that if he had played in two more NFL seasons maximum at the pace he was going, he likely would have broken the record. That is, as long as he hadn’t gotten hurt, which was always possible when playing in the NFL. Though Sanders didn’t have much of a track record injury-wise, he evidently didn’t care about setting a new record.

4 How Long Did Barry Sanders Play In The NFL?

Despite Retiring Early, Barry Sanders Played For A While

Barry Sanders in Detroit Lions uniform runs with a football in hand

Barry Sanders played in the NFL for 10 years, from 1989 to 1998. He was only 31 years old when he quit, which was too young given that he wasn’t declining as a player. Many athletes are lucky if they play for even five years at the professional level — especially NFL players. Other pro football legends, like Tom Brady, have played for as many as two decades, but Sanders ultimately marched to the beat of his own drum and retired when he felt it necessary to retire.

3 How Many Children Does Barry Sanders Have?

Sanders Has All Sons

Barry Sanderss' son Barry J. Sanders in a football uniform

Barry Sanders has four sons: Barry J. Sanders, Nick Sanders, Nigel Sanders, and Noah Sanders. Barry J. Sanders played college football from 2012 to 2016, both for Stanford and his father’s alma mater, Oklahoma State, though he never went to the NFL. Nick did not go on to play any sports at the collegiate level. Nigel Sanders plays basketball for Michigan State. Noah Sanders is a senior in high school, where he is being recruited by multiple Division 1 colleges to play football. It’s safe to say that Barry Sanders’s sons all take after their dad.

2 Did Barry Sanders Ever Consider Going To Another Team?

Barry Sanders Could Have Left The Detroit Lions

Barry Sanders rushes against the Green Bay Pakcers

Barry Sanders spent his entire NFL career with the Detroit Lions, who failed to build a winning squad around him. Instead of retiring young, he could’ve gone to a better team. In the documentary Bye Bye Barry, one of Sanders’s sons asks why he didn’t try to play for anyone else. Sanders says that thought never crossed his mind because he decided that he was done playing. Sanders also acknowledged that he may have chosen differently at the time if the Lions had been coming off an extended playoff run, like a Super Bowl loss. Sanders wouldn’t confirm if constantly losing in Detroit factored into his decision to retire.

1 Why Did Barry Sanders Retire At 31?

Barry Sanders Retired At A Young Age For An NFL Player

Barry Sanders talks into a microphone as the Detroit Lions team ambassador

In the documentary Bye Bye Barry, Barry Sanders gives pretty much the same answer to the question of why he retired so young as he did when he left the NFL in 1999: he simply didn’t have the passion for it anymore. The Detroit Lions had lost many valuable players while not adequately replacing them before Sanders’s last season in 1998, which factored into why he no longer wanted to play. Despite him clearly being one of the very best running backs in the league, the Lions’ failure to succeed with Sanders at his peak made him lose all interest in continuing his career.

Bye Bye Barry is streaming on Prime Video.


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