Thursday, June 6
It was with tremendous sadness that I read Gale Sayers has severe dementia. The 6-footer is down to 130 pounds, hardly talks and can't write anymore.
How good of a football player was Gale Sayers?
"His like will never be seen again," George Halas said of Sayers.
That's true. But I will take it a step more. I've been watching football since 1963. Sayers was the most dangerous running back I ever saw.
The nearest comparison to Sayers I can make is Barry Sanders. As great as Sanders was, Sayers had fancier moves and more speed. The cliche of he's a threat to score anytime he touches the ball realistically applies to just one ballcarrier - Sayers.
The You Tube highlights of Sayers doesn't capture the fear he installed in defenses and fans whose team happen to be playing the Bears that Sunday. The Packers of Vince Lombardi were my team growing up in Wisconsin during the 1960s. The Packers defense was extremely well coached. The key was each player knew to stay in his lane. That strategy worked against Jim Brown and every running back except Sayers.
Sayers scared the crap out of Lombardi because of his once-in-a-generation type of moves and speed. Sayers not only could break tackles, but he could avoid defenders with a super natural cutting ability. There was no coaching or defending him.
His career was cut short by a devastating knee injury in 1968 during his fourth season. Sayers never was the same after the injury. He came back to lead the NFL in rushing the following season basically running on one leg. The courage always was there, but the unique cutting ability and speed were hampered.
Sayers played just 68 games in the NFL. He remains the youngest Hall of Fame inductee at 34.
There was more to Sayers than being just an all-time football great. He and Brian Piccolo became the NFL's first interracial roomates in 1967 when race riots were going on. Their closeness and friendship was portrayed in the TV movie "Brian's Song."
While Piccolo lay dying of cancer in 1970, Sayers was being presented an award for courage. At the banquet to accept the award Sayers said, "I love Brian Piccolo and I'd like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him."
Now it's time to put Gale Sayers in your prayers.