A Summer With Barry – ‘Barry Sanders: A Football Life’

A Football Life, Detroit Lions, Paul Monusky

Editor’s Note: NFL Films’ Paul Monusky and Nick Mascolo are the producers for this week’s episode of  “A Football Life”, featuring Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.  Here’s Monusky’s thoughts on what he learned about Sanders and his effect on others.  Be sure to tune in to “Barry Sanders: A Football Life”, this Wednesday at 8 PM / ET only on NFL Network. 

In the summer of 1999, arguably the greatest running back in NFL history walked away from the game at the age of 31. Without a press conference, or a lavish farewell tour, Barry Sanders faxed in his retirement to a childhood friend who worked at their hometown paper and then took off to England to walk around the streets of London for two weeks. Football fans around the world, and especially in Detroit, were left with many unanswered questions.

Former RB Barry Sanders and NFL Films Producer Paul Monusky during the filming of "A Football Life."

Former RB Barry Sanders and NFL Films Producer Paul Monusky during the filming of “A Football Life.”

When I was told I would produce “Barry Sanders – A Football Life”, along with Nick Mascolo, our first plan was to deconstruct Barry’s retirement and investigate exactly what happened on that July day. As we dove further into this story, it was apparent that many events in the life of Barry Sanders led up to his exit from the NFL. There is definitely a reason why Barry Sanders left, and we feel that we have presented that.

Over 25 people were interviewed for our film, including four Hall of Fame running backs (Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas and Curtis Martin) and a Hall of Fame Shooting Guard ( Joe Dumars), and many of them described Barry the best way they could. One theme continued through the interviews – Barry Sanders is different from most athletes.

There are a lot of people in the media or as fans that think “different” is a negative term. After spending five months travelling the country and interviewing people close to Barry Sanders and sitting down with Barry himself, I can honestly say that the world would be a better place if more people were as different as Barry Sanders.

Former RB Barry Sanders and NFL Films Producer Paul Monusky on the set of "A Football Life."

Former RB Barry Sanders and NFL Films Producer Paul Monusky on the set of “A Football Life.”

Far too frequently, athletes and entertainers make an imprint on our society, not because they are talented, but because they are memorable. At some point in this country, the talentless became instantly celebrated, and if the talented ones didn’t boast of their accomplishments, they were swept away or forgotten.

If you think that a “me-first” attitude is required to be a successful athlete, then you don’t know Barry Sanders. This is a film that you should show your children, and I cannot wait for my two girls to be old enough to watch it, so that they can appreciate who Barry is, and the selfless attitude that he still has to this day.

On one of my trips to Detroit this summer, I went to a Detroit Tiger baseball game and sat next to a Tigers fan who told me that after the last Lions game of the year he runs downstairs and pops in a VHS highlight tape of Barry Sanders. When I asked him why, he told me that “Nothing makes me happier than watching Barry run, and I never want to forget that.”

I never want to forget how grounded Barry Sanders is about his celebrity, and I hope that this film helps other people figure out why Barry Sanders retired, and more importantly, why he is and will always be a fantastic role model.

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