One day, in 1981, I was in my usual chair, in the lobby of True Value Hardware, waiting to see a buyer. The lobby was empty except for me and the receptionist and I was going over my presentation when I felt someone sit down nearby. I was stunned to see Gale Sayers dressed in a suit and tie sitting there going through material he had with him just like I was doing.
"Good morning Gale," I said. "Good morning" he replied back. "What brings you here today?" "I'm making my first presentation to True Value and I'm not going to lie, I'm a little nervous." "You're nervous about this? You've had Ray Nitschke chasing you around the field like a crazed maniac!" "Yeah but I knew I could outrun him." I was called into my meeting and that was that.
Gale Sayers, The Kansas Comet, passed away today at the age of 77.
Sayers was drafted in 1965 by the Bears and his impact on the team, and the NFL, was immediate. In his rookie season he rushed for 867 yards, he had 14 rushing touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns, and a punt return for a then NFL record of 22 touchdowns in a single season. Six of them came in one game against the 49ers in the rain on a miserable field.
See the highlights and enjoy the great Jack Brickhouse call the action.
Ironically, it would the the 49ers Kermit Alexander who would end Sayers career with a tackle on his knee a few years later in 1968. He returned for a couple of years after his surgery, but was never the same, and the knee just wouldn't hold up, so he retired in 1972 at 29 years of age. Five years later, at 34, he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame as the youngest player ever to have that honor.
If you don't know just how good he was, in a short career, here are some things to ponder. He was named to the NFL all decade team of the 1960's, he was also named to the 50th, the 75th, and the 100th, anniversary All-Time teams. Just think about who played running back from 1965 to today, and yet he is still on those lists.
His friendship with the late Brian Piccolo led to a movie about their relationship called Brian's Song. Sayers was an extraordinary talent, and as our own In My Opinion insider, Tom Barnicle tells me all the time, Walter Payton was the best athlete in football history but Gale Sayers was the best running back of all time.
The Bears team of Sayers and Dick Butkus was when I really fell in love with football and the Bears. My love affair with the team has gone up and down over the years since, but those two guys were really fun to watch, in black and white, on a tv with rabbit ears, and no home games televised.
The passing today of Gale Sayers is just another, in a daily reminder, especially in 2020, of the fact that death is undefeated, and we all are day to day.