Sayers in January 2008
|Position:||Halfback, return specialist|
|Date of birth:||May 30, 1943|
|Place of birth:||Wichita, Kansas|
|Height:||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|Weight:||198 lb (90 kg)|
|High school:||Omaha (NE) Central|
|NFL Draft:||1965 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4|
|AFL draft:||1965 / Round: 1 / Pick: 5|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
Gale Eugene Sayers (born May 30, 1943), nicknamed the "Kansas Comet", is a former professional American football player who was a halfback and return specialist in the National Football League (NFL) for seven seasons for the Chicago Bears. He played college football for the University of Kansas and was twice recognized as an All-American. He was a first round pick in the 1965 NFL Draft and played his entire pro career for the Bears. Sayers is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. His friendship with Chicago Bears teammate Brian Piccolo was the basis for the 1971 movie Brian's Song. He is an entrepreneur in the information technology field and an active philanthropist.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, but raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Gale Eugene Sayers is the son of Roger Winfield Sayers and Bernice Ross. His father was a mechanic for Goodyear, farmed, and worked for auto dealerships. Sayers' younger brother, Ron, later played running back for the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League. Sayers graduated from Omaha Central High School where he starred in football and track and field. A fine all-around track athlete, he set a state long jump record of 25'10 1⁄2".
Sayers was recruited by several major Midwestern colleges before deciding to play college football at the University of Kansas. While being interviewed by Len Kasper and Bob Brenly during a broadcast of a Chicago Cubs game on September 8, 2010, Sayers said he had originally intended to go to the University of Iowa. Sayers said that he decided against going to Iowa after the Iowa head coach, Jerry Burns, did not have time to meet Sayers during his one campus visit. During his Jayhawks career, he rushed for 2,675 yards and gained a Big Eight Conference-record 4,020 all-purpose yards. He was three times recognized as a first-team All-Big Eight selection and was a consensus pick for the College Football All-America Team in both 1963 and 1964.
As a sophomore in 1962, his first year on the varsity team, Sayers led the Big Eight Conference and was third in the nation with 1,125 rushing yards. His 7.1 yards-per-carry average was the highest of any player in the NCAA that season. Against Oklahoma State that season, he carried 21 times for a conference single-game-record 283 yards to lead Kansas to a 36–17 comeback victory. In 1963, Sayers set an NCAA Division I FBS record with a 99-yard run against Nebraska. He finished the year with 917 rushing yards, again leading all rushers in the Big Eight. He earned first-team All-America recognition from the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), The Sporting News, and United Press International (UPI), among others. In 1964, his senior year, he led the Jayhawks to a 15–14 upset victory over Oklahoma with a 93-yard return of the game's opening kickoff for a touchdown. He finished the year with 633 rushing yards, third most among Big Eight rushers, and also caught 17 passes for 178 yards, returned 15 punts for 138 yards, and returned seven kickoffs for 193 yards. He earned first-team All-America honors from each of the same selectors as in the previous year, in addition to the Associated Press, among others.
Sayers was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round, fourth overall, in the 1965 NFL Draft, and was picked fifth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League in the AFL draft. He decided that all things being equal, he would rather play in Chicago, and so after consulting his wife he chose to sign with George Halas' Bears. In his rookie year, he scored an NFL-record 22 touchdowns: 14 rushing, six receiving, and one each on punt and kickoff returns. He gained 2,272 all-purpose yards, a record for an NFL rookie, with 1,371 of them coming from scrimmage. Sayers averaged 5.2 yards per rush and 17.5 yards per reception. His return averages were 14.9 yards per punt return and a league-high 31.4 yards per kickoff return.
Against the Minnesota Vikings on October 17, Sayers carried 13 times for 64 yards and a touchdown; caught four passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns; and had a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown in the 45–37 Bears victory. He was the last NFL player to score a rushing, receiving, and kickoff return touchdown in the same game until Tyreek Hill accomplished the feat over fifty years later, in 2016. Bears coach Halas lauded Sayers after the game, saying, "I don't ever remember seeing a rookie back who was as good," and deemed his talents equal to former Bears greats Red Grange and George McAfee. "And remember," said Halas, "we used to George 'One-Play McAfee'." On December 12, he tied Ernie Nevers' and Dub Jones' record for touchdowns in a single game, scoring six in a 61–20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers that was played in muddy conditions at the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field. Sayers was the consensus choice for NFL Rookie of the Year honors from both the AP and UPI.
In his second season, Sayers led the league in rushing with 1,231 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry with eight touchdowns and becoming the first halfback to win the rushing title since 1949. He also led the Bears in receiving with 34 catches, 447 yards, and two more scores. He also surpassed his rookie season's kick return numbers, averaging 31.2 yards per return with two touchdowns. He supplanted his all-purpose yards record from the previous season, gaining 2,440. In the Bears' final game of the season and the first of Sayers' pro career with his parents in attendance, against the Minnesota Vikings, he carried 17 times for a franchise-record 197 yards after returning the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. Starring in his second straight Pro Bowl, Sayers carried 11 times for 110 yards and was named the back of the game. The Bears finished the season with a 5–7–2 record, and the Chicago Tribune tabbed Sayers as "the one bright spot in Chicago's pro football year."
In Halas' final season as an NFL coach, Sayers again starred. Sharing more of the rushing duties with other backs, such as Brian Piccolo, Sayers gained 880 yards with a 4.7-yard average per carry. His receptions were down as well. He had three kickoff returns for touchdowns on 16 returns, averaging 37.7 yards per return. Only rarely returning punts (he returned three all season), Sayers still managed to return one for a score against the San Francisco 49ers, a game in which he also returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and scored a rushing touchdown on a rain-soaked field in San Francisco's Kezar Stadium. "It was a bad field, but it didn't stop some people," said 49ers coach Jack Christiansen, referring to Sayers' performance. Christiansen said after Sayers' kickoff return, all punts were supposed to go out of bounds. But Sayers received the punt and ran 58 yards through the middle of the field for the score. After the season, Sayers was invited to his third straight Pro Bowl, in which he returned a kickoff 75 yards and scored a three-yard rushing touchdown to again earn player of the game honors. Chicago finished in second place in the newly organized Central Division with a 7–6–1 record.
Sayers had the most productive rushing yardage game of his career against the Green Bay Packers on November 3, 1968, carrying 24 times for 205 yards. His season ended prematurely the following week against the San Francisco 49ers when he tore the ligaments in his right knee. Garry Lyle, the teammate nearest Sayers at the time, said, "I saw his eyes sort of glass over. I heard him holler. I knew he was hurt." Sayers had again been leading the league in rushing yards through the first nine games, and finished the year with 856 yards. After surgery, Sayers went through a physical rehabilitation program with the help of Piccolo, who had replaced him in the starting lineup. Despite missing the Bears' final five games, he was earned first-team All-Pro recognition from several media outlets, including the AP, and UPI, and NEA.
In the 1969 season, after a slow start, Sayers led the league in rushing once again with 1,032 yards. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and was the only player to gain over 1,000 rushing yards that year. He moved into second place on the Bears' all-time rushing yards list, passing Bronko Nagurski. Sayers was recognized as the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year by United Press International. The Bears, long past the Halas glory years, finished in last place with a franchise-worst 1–13 record.
In 1970, Sayers suffered a second knee injury, this time to his left knee, and was deemed out for the season. Piccolo also died of cancer that year. During his off time, Sayers took classes to become a stockbroker and became the first black stockbroker in his company's history. After another rehabilitation period, he tried a comeback in 1971, which was not successful. He was encouraged to retire but decided to give it one more try. Sayers' final game was in the 1972 preseason in which he fumbled twice in three carries; he retired a few days later.
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Sayers' ability as a runner in the open field was considered unmatched, both during his playing career and since his retirement. Mike Ditka, a teammate of Sayers' for two seasons, called him "the best runner with a football under his arm I've ever seen." Another former teammate, linebacker Dick Butkus, who was famous for his tackling ability, said of Sayers:
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.
Sayers' friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo and Piccolo's struggle with cancer (embryonal cell carcinoma, which was diagnosed after it metastasized to a large tumor in his chest cavity), became the subject of the made-for-TV movie Brian's Song. The movie, in which Sayers was portrayed by Billy Dee Williams in the 1971 original and by Mekhi Phifer in the 2001 remake, was adapted from Sayers' account of this story in his 1971 autobiography, I Am Third. A notable aspect of Sayers' friendship with Piccolo, a white man, and the first film's depiction of their friendship, was its effect on race relations. The first film was made in the wake of racial riots, escalating racial tensions fueled by Martin Luther King's assassination, and charges of discrimination across the nation. Sayers and Piccolo were devoted friends and deeply respectful of and affectionate with each other. Piccolo helped Sayers through rehabilitation after injury, and Sayers was by Piccolo's side throughout his illness.
Sayers has had a successful business career following his retirement from football. In 1976, Sayers was named the athletic director at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Later, in 1984, he founded Crest Computer Supply Company in the Chicago area. Under Sayers's leadership, this company experienced consistent growth and was renamed Sayers 40, Inc. Currently, he is chairman of Sayers 40, Inc., a technology consulting and implementation firm serving Fortune 1000 companies nationally with offices in Vernon Hills, Illinois, Canton, Massachusetts, Clearwater, Florida, and Atlanta. Sayers and his wife are also active philanthropists in Chicago. They support the Cradle Foundation—an adoption organization in Evanston, Illinois, and they founded the Gale Sayers Center in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. The Gale Sayers Center is an after-school program for children ages 8–12 from Chicago's west side and focuses on leadership development, tutoring, and mentoring. In 2009, Sayers joined the University of Kansas Athletic Department staff as Director of Fundraising for Special Projects.
In September 2013, Sayers sued the NFL, claiming the league negligently handled his repeated head injuries during his career. In the lawsuit, Sayers claimed he suffered headaches and short-term memory loss since retirement. He stated he was sometimes sent back into games after suffering concussions, and that the league did not do enough to protect him. The case was withdrawn after Sayers claimed it was filed without his permission, but he filed a new lawsuit in January 2014 along with six other former players.
Sayers' record of 22 touchdowns in a season was broken by O. J. Simpson in 1975, who scored 23; Sayers' 22 touchdowns remains a rookie record as of 2017.:545 Sayers remains the most recent player to score at least six touchdowns in a game. His career kickoff return average of 30.56 yards is an NFL record for players with at least 75 attempts,:560 and he is one of several players to have scored two return touchdowns in a game.:561 He is tied with four other players for the second most career kickoff return touchdowns, with six.:560 Sayers' rookie record of 2,272 all-purpose yards was broken in 1988 by Tim Brown, who gained 2,317 yards through 16 games, two more games than Sayers set the record in. His single-season all-purpose yards record of 2,440 set in 1966 was broken in 1974 by Mack Herron, who surpassed it by four yards.
Later in 1977, Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is still the youngest inductee in its history. In 1994, the Bears retired his number 40 at Soldier Field, along with number 51, which had been worn by teammate, linebacker Dick Butkus. The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee named Sayers to its NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, which comprised the best players of the 1960s at each position. In 1994, Sayers was selected for the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team as both a halfback and a kickoff returner; he was the only player selected for multiple positions. In 1999, despite the brevity of his career, he was ranked 22nd on The Sporting News's list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
The lead reduced to a scant 10–9 by a record-breaking 99-yard run by Kansas' Gale Sayers...
Gale Sayers's sheer, blinding talent made him the standard for all open-field runners since—but when he hobbled into history after a brutally shortened career, football was left to wonder what might have been
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