Column: NFL legend Gale Sayers dies at 77

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

Chicago Bears legend and NFL Hall-of-Famer Gale Sayers died Wednesday at the age of 77.

For anyone who grew up a Chicago Bears fan, as I did, Sayers’ name and image held a special meaning. Even though he retired 22 years before I was born, he was someone that I knew of and respected.

Sayers was born May 30 1943, in Wichita, Kansas. The state of Kansas was also where he would make a name for himself, playing football at the University of Kansas from 1961 until 1964, being named an All-American in 1963 and 1964.

Sayers then moved on to the professional ranks, being drafted fourth overall in the 1965 NFL draft.

He made an impact immediately, recording 1,374 yards from scrimmage in his rookie season. He also scored 22 total touchdowns; 14 rushing, 6 receiving and 2 on returns. He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year for his efforts.

Sayers also tied an NFL record that season, scoring six total touchdowns on a muddy field in December against the San Francisco 49ers.

Sayers’ career trajectory was continuing upward into his fourth year, when he tore his ACL and MCL in the team’s ninth game.

He came back the following season and played exceptionally well, earning NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Sayers hurt his left knee prior to the 1970 season and was limited to just four games over the next two seasons before retiring.

Despite playing just four full seasons, Sayers was inducted to the NFL Hall-of-Fame in 1977 at just 34 years old. He remains the youngest player ever inducted.

Unfortunately, like many other NFL players, Sayers’ legacy has a darker side. He was diagnosed with dementia in 2013, according to his wife Ardythe. She said doctors said that it was likely a result of his football career.

Even watching Sayers’ highlights as a child, it was evident to me that he was an incredible talent. If he was able to remain healthy, it is hard to imagine what kind of numbers he would have accumulated.

His speed and elusiveness would likely translate well to any era of the NFL. Early in his career, his ability to burst through gaps in the defense led him to say, “Just give me 18 inches of daylight. That’s all I need.”

Even iconic linebacker Dick Butkus, a former teammate of Sayers’ who is known as one of the most ferocious tacklers of all time, said Sayers’ ability to evade defenders was one of a kind.

“He had this ability to go full speed, cut and then go full speed again right away. I saw it every day in practice. We played live, and you could never get a clean shot on Gale. Never,” Butkus said.

Sayers has his number retired by both Kansas and the Bears. He was also named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team as both a running back and kick returner, the only player to be named to the team at two different positions.

 

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]