For many years I've used the same response whenever people around me are discussing professional football:
"I'm a Detroit Lions fan. I don't watch professional football."
It never fails to get a chuckle because the Lions have been a terrible team for decades.
However, in the early 1990s, there was hope that things would turn around. Detroit drafted Oklahoma State University running back Barry Sanders, and his arrival electrified the team.
Yet despite a promising start, the Lions regressed, and the only bright spot was Sanders' performance. Devoid of playoff hopes the fan base instead focused on Sanders becoming the greatest running back in pro football history.
It was not to be. On the eve of what would have been his record-breaking season Sanders quit, faxing his retirement to a hometown newspaper before going on vacation in London.
Bye, Bye, Barry is a well-done documentary that outlines Sanders' career, the critical part his father played in his life, and why he quit the way he did.
The film is peppered with highlights demonstrating what a phenomenal athlete Sanders was. Even now, having watched many of those games, my wife and I were amazed with his evasiveness and skill. Trying to describe his feline grace and reflexes is all but impossible.
Perhaps even more remarkable is Sanders' personality. He was - and is - a deeply humble man, the antithesis of a typical NFL superstar. He famously did not show up in person to accept the Heisman Award, college football's greatest honor. He refused to take extra carries when games were decided in order to boost his statistics because he had no interest in personal glory.
In an age when touchdown celebrations became obligatory, Sanders simply tossed the to the referee after crossing the goal line. "Act like you've been there before," was how it was described, though Sanders apparently never said it.
When he quit, Detroit and the sports world in general was thrown into turmoil. How could the preeminent athlete in America's most popular sport just quit? If he must quit, could he not hold a press conference?
Bye, Bye Barry answers these questions and I took a bit of pleasure in reading the situation correctly. At the time, I figured he was tired of losing, tired of the spotlight, and wanted to do something else.
And when he quit, so did I. I haven't watched an NFL game since.
I greatly enjoyed the film, which evoked the time period and used Motown-style music to conjure up the Spirit of Detroit.