I can’t shake the sense that we’re missing the boat on Pelé, that, like the Hot Fives and Sevens or The Godfather, he’s become invisible through repetition and influence. We’ve all known his name since the day the atom was split, and I wonder whether what we’re seeing when we watch him is dulled by what we already know and expect. I want to shake that off and make an effort to look at him with fresh eyes.
Thus began “Pelé Week,” an anthology of guest blog posts that explored many facets of the player, the man, the cultural phenomenon, the corporate pitchman, and the FIFA-approved International Face of Soccer that Pelé was and is. The posts, and resultant discussions were fantastic, enlightening, revelatory—but even as I read them, I knew something similar had to be done for Barry Sanders.
The problem with Barry is the opposite of the problem with Pelé. Any man, woman, or child alive who has ever heard of any soccer player has heard of Pelé. Anyone able to grasp both the concept of soccer and the concept of greatness will tell you that Pelé is the greatest soccer player of all time. Meanwhile, Barry’s legend is as elusive as he was as a player; already he seems to be an afterthought in the discussion of great players.
His close association with the worst franchise in football has no doubt taken some of the shine off of his Hall of Fame bust. The Lions’ lack of team success has always been used to marginalize Barry’s achievements; his “resume” will forever lack the baubles of his peers. The national fans and media who didn’t really watch the Lions when they were mediocre with Barry, have put them completely out of mind during the past dark decade without.
Further, it’s something I’m feeling inside myself—my childhood memories of Barry are starting to do what childhood memories do: fade. I increasingly find myself remembering my memories of Barry more than the player himself; I feel him slipping through the cracks of my mind, just as he slipped between defenders. Further, there’s a whole new generation of Lions fans, high school and college students who never saw Barry play at all. For them, for me, for every Lions fan—and football fan—alive, let’s remember, let’s celebrate, let’s share, let’s keep the fire burning in his honor.
Barry Week starts on Sunday.
Lions (and football) writers out there: I’ve already reached out to some of you for contributions, and have some in hand. But if you’re reading this now, and would like to contribute something awesome, hit me up on email.