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Taking the time to honor the legendary Gale Sayers

Honoring a legend: Gale Sayers

Gale Sayers - Chicago Bears - File Photos Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images

Shoot and gosh darn it. I really wanted to do it. I even put it in my notes for my weekly solo podcast on Saturday, Steelers Brunch with Tony.

What was it that I wanted to do? I wanted to end my show by paying tribute to legendary Bears running back, Gale Sayers, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 77. Unfortunately, I had so many other things to talk about with regards to the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I simply forgot.

Perhaps that’s fitting. After all, one of the easiest things to do is to become so preoccupied with the present that you forget about the past.

But I love NFL history. In fact, studying it as a kid with the use of books and NFL Films features was what helped me learn about and appreciate the great game of football. And make no mistake about it, Gale Sayers is a huge part of the NFL’s history.

Sayers burst onto the scene with the Chicago Bears, when they selected him with the fourth-overall pick of the 1965 NFL Draft or one spot after they also picked legendary middle linebacker, Dick Butkus. (By the way, and to fulfill my article requirement of talking about the black and gold, the pick the Bears used to select Butkus was traded to them by the Steelers, who obviously could have had their choice of either future Hall of Fame player. If you want to know why it took them 40 years to do anything positive, here’s more proof.)

Just how good was Sayers’s rookie season? So good, he scored 22 touchdowns and tallied 2,272 all-purpose yards, including 867 rushing yards and 507 receiving yards, in a 14-game season. Sayers finest moment came during the ‘65 campaign when he scored six touchdowns—including four rushing, one receiving and a punt for a score—in a game against the 49ers at Wrigley Field on December 12, 1965. For his efforts, Sayers was voted Rookie of the Year.

Sayers was known as the Kansas Comet, a player so elusive in the open field, he coined a confident and self-assured phrase that would surely get ridiculed if a player said it today: “Give me 18 inches of daylight. That’s all I need.”

Sayers was named an All-Pro during each of his first five seasons. Sadly for him, Sayers’s fifth season, 1968, saw him suffer an ACL tear. Undaunted, Sayers vigorously rehabbed his injured knee and, despite lacking the elusiveness and explosiveness that he had pre-injury, managed to lead the league in rushing for the second time in 1969.

Unfortunately, Sayers was haunted by more injuries in 1970 and 1971, and he retired following the ‘71 campaign.

Back to Sayers’s famous quote. Would a player even make such a bold statement in this day and age, where the defenders are much bigger and faster than during Sayers’s time?

My guess is no player would ever dare make such a statement. Why? Because there was never anyone quite like Sayers before he came along, and there really hasn’t been anyone like him since.

Maybe that’s why, despite playing in just 68-career games and finishing with a shade under 5,000 rushing yards, Sayers was voted a First-Ballot Hall of Famer in 1977 at the age of 34—the youngest player so honored before and since.

Some players don’t need statistics to prove they’re an all-time great. Some players just need to show up and play.

Gale Sayers was one of those players.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Papa Bear George Halas, the late owner of the Bears who presented Sayers for enshrinement way back in ‘77:

“If you wish to see perfection as a running back, you had best get a hold of a film of Gale Sayers. He was poetry in motion. His like will never be seen again.”