Sayers, Gale 1943
Gale Sayers 1943
Professional football player
Gale Eugene Sayers, who would later come to be known as “The Kansas Comet,” was born on May 30, 1943, in Wichita, Kansas. His mother, Bernice, was set on the name Gail in the hopes that her second child would be a girl. When her second baby came along, it turned out to be a boy, and though the spelling changed slightly, the name Gale stayed. Sayers’s father, Roger, who worked as a mechanic, moved his family from the more urban Wichita to his father’s farm in Speed, Kansas. Sayers attended a two-room schoolhouse in Speed before his parents decided that they could not make ends meet as farmers. The family was forced to move again soon after, but Sayers’s father had sold almost everything before the family moved to Speed. Money was very tight in the family with Roger earning a limited amount of money as a car polisher and mechanic. The family changed residences nine times in eight years and both Sayers’s parents were drinking more as the family’s fortunes declined. The five Sayers eventually settled down in Omaha, Nebraska.
Sayers excelled in all sports as a child, especially baseball, basketball, football, and track. While other kids in his neighborhood got into trouble with drugs or with the police, Sayers and his friends played sports. He became a football star in high school earning All-America honors in his senior year. He visited many of the big football schools including the University of Notre Dame and Nebraska. Despite the pressure to attend the University of Nebraska, as an in-state star athlete should, in 1961 Sayers chose the University of Kansas. During the summer before going off to school, he also became engaged to Linda, his high school sweetheart. The two would remain engaged for one year and marry after Sayers’s freshman year at Kansas at the age of 19.
Sayers’s first year in college did not go well. He did well on the football field, but he had trouble with other aspects of university life. The young man from Omaha found himself among more sophisticated students. Sayers became more introverted socially and would only talk about the one subject he knew well—sports. He had been a passive student in high school and found that college classes were a good deal more demanding than what he was used to. Sayers failed English and received poor grades in his other classes. He was
At a Glance…
Born Gale Eugene Sayers on May 30, 1943, in JUwichita, Kansas; son of Roger (a car polisher and mechanic) and Bernice Sayers; married Linda; children: Gayle Lynne and Scott Aaron.Education: University of Kansas, bachelor’s, master’s degree.
Career: Professional football player. Chicago Bears, 1965-72; University of Kansas, assistant athletic director, 1973-75; Southern Illinois University, athletic director, 1976-81; founded computer resale firm, 1982; Sayers Computer Source, President and CEO, 1982-.
Awards: University of Kansas, All-American, 1963, 1964; Rookie of the Year, Chicago Bears, 1965; Pro Bowl selection, 1965-69; led the NFL in rushing, 1966, 1969; the youngest man ever elected to NFL Hall of Fame, 1977; named to University of Illinois at Chicago’s Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, 1999; one of Ernst and Young’s Technology/Communications Entrepreneurs of the Year, 1999.
Addresses: Home —Chicago, Illinois. Office—The Sayers Group, 1150 Freehanville Drive, Mt. Prospect, IL 60056.
forced to attend summer school, but he would do so with his new wife, who worked while Sayers studied and went to practice. Being married settled the young star and Linda helped him with his studies.In 1962 Sayers rushed for 1, 125 yards and averaged an astonishing 7.2 yards per carry. Sayers gained 941 yards as a junior and 678 yards as a senior. Now known as “the Kansas Comet,” he set a Big Eight Conference career record of 2,675 yards rushing and was named All-American after his junior and senior seasons.
Perhaps more importantly, the scared young boy had matured into a confident young man who could deal with the press and did well in his classes. In his senior year Sayers was asked to participate in protest with some other students against discrimination in campus housing. Sayers took part in the protest and was eventually arrested. The two-time All-American said that his most important accomplishment in college was maintaining a B average in his last year at Kansas. Unfortunately Sayers lost interest in school after the football season. He was busy with college all-star games and was receiving all kinds of offers from both the National Football League and the old American Football League—which was to become the American Football Conference within the NFL but was a competing football league at the time. Sayers made it clear that he would go with the established league and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1965. Sayers signed a four-year deal that he negotiated himself for $25, 000 a year.
The rookie took the NFL by storm. After learning to control his nervousness and use his blockers, Sayers piled up 867 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first season as a professional football player. Not only did Sayers win the scoring title, but he was also voted Rookie of the Year and named All-Pro. Though Sayers’s rookie season was among the best ever for a first-year NFL player, one game stands out above all of his efforts. On December 12, 1965 Sayers tied the NFL record for most touchdowns in a game. Against the San Francisco 49ers on a cold, muddy, Chicago field Sayers scored six touchdowns. The rookie runner equaled a mark set back in 1926. Sayers connected on an 80-yard screen pass, an 85-yard punt return, and runs of 21, seven, 50, and one yards. All told he single-handedly gained 316 yards and scored 36 points. “Yeah, the mud affected the kid,” Mike Ditka was quoted in an NFL Insider article. “If it had been dry out there, he woulc’ve scored 10 touchdowns.” The next year he led the league in rushing with 1, 231 yards.
In 1967 Sayers gained 880 yards rushing and was again named All-Prc. Sayers stayed busy off the field as well. He became a stockbroker and was active in many programs for the children of Chicago. He also solidified his famous friendship with his teammate Brian Piccolo. Sayers and Piccolo played the same position and instead of becoming rivals, the two men became friends. The Bears asked the pair of unlikely pioneers to room together before the 1967 season during preseason practice sessions in Alabama. Though the two worked and lived together, they still could not go out to eat together in a segregated state in 1967. When Piccolo got sick with lung cancer, it was Sayers who addressed the team on the club’s behalf and when Piccolo died in 1970 it was Sayers who helped carry his casket at the funeral. Their story was told in a 1971 made-for-television movie called Brian’s Song in which Billy Dee Williams played Sayers.
The next year would be a pivotal time in Sayers’s life. Off the field he solidified his presence in the community by forming the Gale Sayers Foundation to help young newspaper carriers. The 1968 season was important also. In a game against San Francisco, Sayers hit and twisted his knee badly enough to tear ligaments in his knee. His season was over. Sayers was forced to undergo surgery and endure a whole off-season of rehabilitation. Sayers started the next season very slowly and there were whispers among the Chicago press that the Bears’ star was washed up. It took Sayers until the sixth game of the season to gain 100 yards, but he averaged 100 yards in the next five games of the year. Sayers ended up leading the league in rushing in 1969 with 1, 032 yards. After the season Pro Football writers voted him the most courageous player in the league. Sayers accepted the award, but not for himself. He said the award would go to his friend Brian Piccolo, who would die a few weeks later.
After a triumphant comeback season, Sayers injured his other leg before the 1970 season. He tried to run through the pain, but in the end he would have another operation. He finished the year with just 52 yards on 23 carries. Though he did not realize it at the time, the surgery would be the first in a series that would steal his best years as a football player. In the next 15 months Sayers would have two more knee surgeries and have his leg put in a cast. Finally at the start of the 1972 season, Sayers announced his retirement from the NFL. “His days at the top of his game were numbered, but there was a magic about him that still sets him apart from the other great running backs in pro football,” Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Red Smith was quoted on ESPN.com. “He wasn’t a bruiser like Jimmy Brown, but he could slice through the middle like a warm knife through butter, and when he took a pitchout and peeled around the corner, he was the most exciting thing in pro football.” Sayers ended his career with 6, 213 yards gained and 56 touchdowns. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry and set seven NFL records and 23 team records.
Though he had retired from playing football, Sayers remained active in the game, becoming a football analyst on CBS for two years. In 1973 he returned to Kansas to work as an assistant athletic director. Sayers soon became director of the Williams Educational Fund, the primary fund raising body for Kansas Athletics. Sayers also found time to earn his master’s degree in educational administration. After three years at Kansas, Sayers went back to Illinois to take the athletic director’s job at Southern Illinois in 1976. After five year in that job Sayers formed his own sports marketing and public relations firm which evolved into Sayers Computer Source. The firm began in 1982 as a computer supplies reseller. Since the company’s founding, Sayers Computer Source has grown to include ten branches across the United States with revenues of more than $150 million. The firm has also expanded its services to more than just selling computers. Sayers Computer Source offers operating systems, systems integration, and consulting services.
In 1999 Sayers was inducted into the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. Then that summer Ernst & Young named Sayers as one of the Technology/Communications Entrepreneurs of the Year. Upon accepting the award Sayers said, as quoted on the Sayers Computer Source website, “This is more significant than my induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame because the latter was the result of God-given talents and the former is the result of my hard work and recognition of personal achievements.” Sayers capped off an eventful 1999 with a gift of $75, 000 to his alma mater, to be used to establish the Gale Sayers Microcomputer Center in the School of Education. While some former sports stars fade away into obscurity after a glorious athletic career, Sayers has continued to grow and prosper in whatever field he has chosen.
Sayers, Gale and Silver man, AllAm Third. The Viking Press, 1970. Hahn, James and Lynn;Sayers! The Sports Career of
Gale Sayers.Crestwood House, 1981.
Additional material for this profile was found on the worldwide web at: http://espn.go.com; the University of Kansas website, http://www.urc.ukans.edu; the Sayers Computer Source website, http://www.sayers.com; and the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, http://www.profootballhof.com.
—Michael J. Watkins
American football player
Knee injuries cut short the brilliant football career of running back Gale Sayers, but not before the "Kansas Comet" was recognized by the National Football League (NFL) as the greatest running back in the first 50 years of the league's history. Although he played only 68 games in professional football, in 1977 Sayers, at the age of only 34, became the youngest player ever to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Honored as the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1967, 1968, and 1970, Sayers in 1965 became the NFL's all-time leading scorer in a single season with 22 touchdowns and retired from the game with a career gain of 6,213 yards. As well as he was known for his accomplishments on the football field, Sayers is remembered by many for his friendship with fellow running back Brian Piccolo, a relationship memorialized in two memorable
made-for-television movies (the first in 1971, the remake in 2001). For many, Sayers's unwavering love and support for Piccolo during the latter's losing battle with cancer defined the essence of true friendship in its purest form.
Born in Wichita, Kansas
He was born Gale Eugene Sayers in Wichita, Kansas, on May 30, 1943. The second of three sons of Roger Winfield (an auto mechanic and car polisher) and Bernice (Ross) Sayers (a homemaker), Sayers owes his first name to his mother who was hoping her second child would be a girl she planned to name Gail. When she had a son instead, the name was retained but with a spelling modification. Sayers's father worked as a mechanic for the Goodyear Corporation in Wichita but in 1950 moved the family to his ailing father's wheat farm in Speed, Kansas. When Sayers's grandfather died in 1951, the family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where Sayers spent the remainder of his childhood. As a boy he showed a natural athletic ability and became involved in a number of sports both in and out of school.
Sayers began playing football in a midget football league soon after his arrival in Omaha, but his interest in the game really began to blossom during his years at Omaha's Central High School, where he played middle linebacker on the school's varsity team. In his senior year at Central, Sayers was named to both the All-Mid-westerm and All-American high school team. He also became a standout star in track and field, winning three gold medals in area competition. But football clearly was Sayers's first passion, and he was courted by dozens of top colleges interested in his gridiron skills. In the end, he decided to return to his native Kansas to play halfback for the University of Kansas Jayhawks. Before heading off to college, Sayers became engaged to his high school sweetheart, Linda Lou McNeil.
Overwhelmed by Academic Demands
An undistinguished scholar in high school, Sayers was clearly overwhelmed by the academic demands of college. Although he continued to shine on the football field, Sayers did poorly in the classroom during his freshman year, failing English and getting dangerously low grades in most of his other courses. Because of his disappointing academic performance, Sayers was forced to enroll in summer school between his freshman and sophomore years at Kansas. He got a little help with his homework from new wife Linda, whom he married shortly after the end of the spring semester. (The couple later divorced.)
With his academic situation stabilized somewhat, Sayers turned in an amazing performance on the football field during his sophomore year, rushing for 1,125 yards and averaging 7.2 yards per carry. He turned in creditable stats during his junior year, rushing for 941 yards, as well as his senior year, rushing for 678 yards, and earning All-American honors after both seasons. With a Big Eight Conference career record of 2,675 yards rushing, Sayers had truly earned his nickname of the "Kansas Comet."
Academically, Sayers finally hit his stride during his senior year at Kansas, maintaining a B average during the fall semester. With the end of the football season, however, he began to focus almost single-mindedly on a career in pro football, entertaining offers from teams in both the NFL and the rival American Football League, which was later to become the American Football Conference within the NFL. His interest in school waned, and Sayers failed to complete all the credits needed to earn his bachelor's degree. In the NFL draft of 1965, he was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears of the NFL. Sayers himself negotiated a four-year contract with the Bears that paid him $25,000 a season and included a signing bonus of $50,000.
Named NFL's Rookie of the Year
Sayers made a spectacular debut in pro football, rushing for a total of 867 yards and 22 touchdowns during his rookie season. His outstanding performance earned Sayers Rookie of the Year honors as well as the NFL's scoring title for the year. The high point of Sayers's rookie season with the Bears came in a game against the San Francisco 49ers on December 12, 1965, when the running back rushed for six touchdowns on a cold and muddy football field in Chicago. He single-handedly gained 316 yards and scored 36 points, prompting teammate Mike Ditka to tell the NFL Insider: "Yeah, the mud affected the kid. If it had been dry out there, he would've scored 10 touchdowns." The rookie also managed to win a trip to the Pro Bowl.
As if to prove that his rookie season was no fluke, Sayers came back with a vengeance in 1966, rushing for a total of 1,231 yards to lead the league. Averaging 5.4 yards per rushing attempt, Sayers was once again selected to play in the Pro Bowl. The following year, he again earned All-Pro honors, rushing for 880 yards. Sayers also began to lay the groundwork for a life after football, taking a job as a stockbroker in Chicago during the off-season. In addition, he began to take a more active role in civic and humanitarian affairs, focusing particularly on programs to benefit underprivileged children.
|1943||Born in Wichita, Kansas, on May 30|
|1951||Moves with family to Omaha, Nebraska|
|1961-65||Attends University of Kansas|
|1962||Marries high school sweetheart Linda Lou McNeil (later divorced) on June 10|
|1965||Picked in first round of NFL draft by Chicago Bears|
|1971||Friendship with Brian Piccolo recounted in Brian's Song, a made-for-TV movie|
|1972||Retires from professional football|
|1973||Marries Ardythe Elaine Bullard on December 1|
|1973||Returns to University of Kansas as assistant athletic director|
Related Biography: Football Player Brian Piccolo
Brian Piccolo, one of Sayers's closest friends and the subject of the made-for-television movie Brian's Song, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on October 21, 1943. As a young child, he moved with his family to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he attended high school, participating in a number of sports. But football was his first love, and after high school, he attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina on a football scholarship. As a senior at Wake Forest, he led the nation in rushing but nevertheless failed to get picked at the NFL's 1965 draft. Legendary Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas stepped in and signed Piccolo as a free agent.
Although he now wore a Bears uniform, Piccolo spent the 1965 football season on the team's practice squad and saw no real action. Although he played in all 14 games of the 1966 season, he rushed for only 12 yards on three carries. The following year, Piccolo gained a total of 317 yards. His big break came in 1968 when Sayers, already a close friend of Piccolo's, injured his knee in the ninth game of the season, putting him out of commission for the rest of the year. For the 1968 season as a whole, Piccolo rushed for 450 yards and scored his first two touchdowns in the NFL.
Just as his football career appeared ready to take off in a big way, a physical exam and follow-up tests in 1969 revealed that Piccolo had a rare form of lung cancer. In the months that followed, Sayers grew even closer to Piccolo, providing all the support he could during this difficult period. Piccolo died on June 16, 1970.
It was also during this period that his friendship with fellow running back Brian Piccolo began to grow stronger. It was in many respects a very unusual friend-ship indeed. Both men played the same position, which most often fuels rivalry rather than friendship. Sayers was African American and Piccolo was white. In 1967 the two roomed together during a preseason training camp in Alabama. Although they lived and practiced together, they could not go out in public and eat a meal comfortably during a period when the barriers of racial segregation had yet to be fully dismantled. When Piccolo was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 1969, the bonds of friendship between the two men grew even stronger. Sayers was a pallbearer at Piccolo's funeral after his friend died on June 16, 1970.
Suffers Serious Knee Injury
During the 1968 season Sayers suffered his first serious knee injury. In a game against the 49ers, the running back was hit so hard that his knee was badly twisted, tearing ligaments and ending his season prematurely. Although he played only nine games in 1968, Sayers managed to rush for a very respectable total of 856 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Because of his knee injury, Sayers was forced to undergo extensive surgery and a lengthy period of physical rehabilitation. Although he was back for the beginning of the Bears' 1969 season, he was forced to start very slowly. The uncharacteristically conservative nature of Sayers's early play in 1969 gave rise to rumors that the running back was washed up. Despite the slow start, Sayers ended the season as the NFL's leading rusher, having piled up a total of 1,032 yards.
At the end of the 1969 season, Sayers was honored with the George Halas Award as "the most courageous player in professional football." When he was presented with the award at the annual dinner of the Professional Football Writers, he dedicated the award to Piccolo, saying: "You flatter me by giving me this award, but I can tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas award. Mine is tonight; it is Brian Piccolo's tomorrow.… 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."
Tears Ligament in Left Knee
In a preseason exhibition game in 1970, Sayers suffered a torn ligament in his left knee. Although he underwent surgery to repair the damage, his knee was never again the same. Despite the injury and subsequent surgery, Sayers managed to play two games during the regular season, but he was unable to maneuver with the same agility and speed for which he would become famous. He finished the season with only 52 yards on 23 carries, averaging 2.3 yards per carry. He underwent two more surgeries over the next several months and even had his leg put in a cast, but it was all to no avail. In the two games he played during the 1971 season, Sayers rushed for only 38 yards on 13 carries, gaining an average of 2.9 yards per carry.
The writing was on the wall and could no longer be ignored. At the beginning of 1972 season, Sayers announced his retirement from professional football. He did not stray far from the game, however. He worked for a while as a football analyst for CBS Sports. Then in 1973 he went back to his old alma mater, the University of Kansas, to work as assistant athletic director. He also became director of the Williams Educational Fund, the principal fund-raising organization for University of Kansas athletic programs. Sayers (who had earlier been divorced from his first wife, Linda) married Ardythe Elaine Bullard on December 1, 1973. In 1976 he left Kansas to take over as athletic director at Southern Illinois University.
|CHI: Chicago Bears.|
Enshrined in Pro Football Hall of Fame
In 1977 Sayers became the youngest player ever to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, Sayers looked back on the road he had traveled to football success: "God gave me a great gift and I had a lot of help developing for this occasion. Reaching this point, however, is not as important as striving to get here. This is true in all professions and all of life's activities. There are doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, plumbers all who strive to do their very best with their abilities. We hear a lot today about how the American people have lost their dedication to excellence. I don't believe that is true. Each of us excels at different things, sometimes in areas that are only a hobby, more often in our life vocation. The most important thing, however, is to strive to do our very best. Nothing is more of a waste than unrealized potential." That same year the running back also was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
After five years as athletic director at Southern Illinois, Sayers and his wife Ardythe in 1981 returned to the Chicago area, where they continue to live today. From his two marriages Sayers has a total of six children: one daughter and five sons.
It has been more than three decades since Sayers left professional football. Many of his records have fallen by the wayside in the intervening years. But no amount of time will erase the brilliance of the running back's short but memorable career. Of Sayers's injury-shortened football career, Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Red Smith later told ESPN: "His days at the top of his game were numbered, but there was a magic about him that still sets him apart from the other great running backs in pro football. He wasn't a bruiser like Jim Brown , but he could slice through the middle like a warm knife through butter, and when he took a pitchout and peeled around the corner, he was the most exciting thing in pro football."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY SAYERS:
(With Al Silverman) I Am Third, New York: Viking Press, 1970.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1961||Named to All-American high school football team|
|1963-64||Wins college All-American honors|
|1965||Named NFL's Rookie of the Year|
|1965-69||Picked to play in Pro Bowl|
|1966, 1969||Leads NFL in rushing|
|1968||Founds Gale Sayers Foundation to help young newspaper carriers|
|1969||Receives George S. Halas Award as "most courageous player in professional football"|
|1977||Becomes youngest player to be enshrined in Pro Football Hall of Fame|
|1977||Voted into College Football Hall of Fame|
|1984||Founds a computer supplies company|
|1999||Named to Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame|
(With Bob Griese) Offensive Football. New York: Atheneum, 1972.
"Gale Sayers." Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 28. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2001.
"Gale Sayers." Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 21. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2001.
Hill, Michael E. "'Brian's Song': ABC Adds a Few Notes to a Classic." Washington Post (December 2, 2001): Y6.
"Brian Piccolo, Bears Running Back, 1965-1969." BearsHistory.com. http://www.geocities.com/dipiccolo41/piccolo.html (November 30, 2002).
"Gale Sayers: Bio." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/enshrinees/gsayers.cfm (November 29, 2002).
"'Kansas Comet' Disappeared Too Quickly." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/mainpage.cfm?cont_id=26423 (November 29, 2002).
"Meet Gale." Sayers Group. http://www.sayers.com/galebio.cfm (November 30, 2002).
Roberts, M. B. "Fame Couldn't Wait for Sayers." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016460.html (January 29, 2003).
Sketch by Don Amerman
Where Is He Now?
Sayers, one of football's most outstanding running backs of all time, is making history of a different sort these days. After becoming a football legend in only 68 games, Sayers spent about eight years in college athletics, working first as assistant athletic director at the University of Kansas and then as athletic director at Southern Illinois University. In 1981 Sayers, with the help of his wife, decided to go into business for himself in the Chicago area. His first venture, Sayers and Sayers Enterprises, specialized in sports marketing and public relations. In 1984 the Sayers founded a computer supplies firm called Crest Computer Supply Company. The company, later renamed Sayers Computer Source, eventually evolved into the Sayers Group LLC, a provider of national technology solutions with annual revenue of more than $300 million. Sayers in 1999 was inducted into the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame and also named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers (born 1943) was the youngest player ever to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sayers earned the nickname of "Gallopin' Gale" for his exceptional ability to elude defensive attackers.
The professional football career of Gale Sayers was brief, lasting for six seasons, from 1965 to 1971. He played a total of only 68 games, yet Sayers retired with a career gain of 6,213 yards and left six National Football League (NFL) records, among them a record as the all-time leading NFL scorer for a single season in 1965 with 22 touchdowns. That record, which stood for 10 years, remained an all-time rookie scoring record into the twenty-first century. Sayers was honored as NFL Rookie of the Year in 1965 and as Most Valuable Player in 1967, 1968, and 1970. In the wake of his 1972 retirement at age 29, Sayers was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility in 1977. He was inducted as well into the Black Athlete's Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. Additionally, Sayers was cited by the NFL as the greatest running back in the first 50 years of the league, and in 1996 he was named a member of the All-Time All Big 8 (College) Team.
Gale Eugene Sayers was born in Wichita, Kansas, on May 30, 1943. He was the second of three sons of Roger Winfield Sayers and the former Bernice Ross. The Sayers family was well established in Kansas and owned considerable acreage in the vicinity of Graham County. Sayers's father worked as a mechanic for the Goodyear Corporation in Wichita until 1950. At that time the family moved to Speed, Kansas, not far from the Nebraska border, for 16 months in order to operate a sizeable wheat farm belonging to Sayers's grandfather, who had fallen ill. In Speed, Gale Sayers and his older brother, Roger "Win" Sayers Jr., attended a small two-room schoolhouse in the nearby community of Phillipsburg. Throughout his childhood, Gale Sayers bonded intensely with both his older and younger brothers.
The family moved to Nebraska in 1951, following the death of Sayers's grandfather. They settled in Omaha, where Sayers spent the duration of his childhood. His father supported the family by polishing cars for auto dealers. Upon his arrival in Omaha, the eight-year-old Sayers joined the local midget football league and blossomed into a promising athlete—a speedy runner in particular. He was gratified by his natural athletic ability and played on a variety of sports teams. Although his family changed residences frequently after settling in Omaha, Sayers remained adaptable and found companionship among his schoolmates at Howard Kennedy Elementary School.
As a teenager at Omaha's Central High School, Sayers played middle linebacker on the school's varsity team and earned the nickname of "Horse" because of his solid strength and sheer bulk. Although his natural agility remained to be tapped, Sayers eventually distinguished himself as an all-around track-and-field athlete, winning a total of three gold medals in area competitions. In his senior year of high school, he set a statewide record in the broad jump and placed fourth statewide in high hurdles. Sayers flourished also on the secondary school gridiron and emerged as the top intercity scorer, with 108 points to his credit. He graduated as the top scorer citywide and as a member of both the All-Midwestern and All-American high school teams. He spent much of his senior year of high school in discussions with top colleges that proffered football scholarships, including Iowa State, Northwestern, and Notre Dame. Sayers, who was determined to play professional football after college, signed 17 letters of intent before he decided to play halfback for the University of Kansas (KU) Jayhawks in Lawrence.
At KU, Sayers wore number 48 on the football field, pledged the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and was not the brightest of scholars, according to the observations of others as well as according to his own admission. In his 1970 autobiography I Am Third, Sayers quoted an unidentified reporter who noted that even into his sophomore year, "[Sayers] was shy almost to the point of boorishness, completely inarticulate, [and] apprehensive about whether he was going to make it scholastically and as a football player."
To Sayers's good fortune, he married his high school sweetheart, Linda Lou McNeil, on June 10, 1962, after his freshman year of college and against the advice of both of their families. Regardless, McNeil was extremely supportive of Sayers, both in his educational endeavors and his athletic goals. Likewise, his speech coach, Tom Hendricks, and his fraternity advisor—an educational consultant by the name of Jesse Milan—contributed both tutorial and emotional support to Sayers. With continued reassurance, Sayers successfully overcame his apathy for learning, gained confidence, found religion, and raised his grade point average to 3.0 by the end of his junior year. As he matured athletically, he became a dominant college player. In his sophomore year he set a collegiate record for the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), scoring a 99-yard touchdown run against the University of Nebraska. In his junior year he gained 941 yards and his gains surpassed 2,000 yards total by the end of the season, earning him the "Back of the Year" award from the Big 8 college conference. By the end of his college career Sayers had a college career yardage gain of 2,675 yards. He was named All-American tailback twice— in both his junior and senior years of college—and earned the nickname of "Kansas Comet."
National Football League
As a college senior in 1965, Sayers received multiple offers to play professional football. He was picked during the first round of the college draft by teams in both the NFL and the former American Football League (AFL). After careful consideration, Sayers signed a contract to play for the NFL's Chicago Bears. The agreement provided Sayers with a salary of $100,000 over a period of four playing seasons, along with a signing bonus of $50,000. In contracting to play with the Bears, Sayers refused an even more lucrative offer from the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL.
As a running back for the Chicago Bears, Sayers— wearing jersey number 40—distinguished himself immediately because of his uncanny ability to charge through opposing defensive lines. He possessed the skill to shift direction without faltering or slowing his pace, along with a penchant for dodging walls of defensive players who rushed to tackle. Sayers at times appeared to move virtually in two directions simultaneously, a unique talent that distinguished him from all other running backs. He rushed for an impressive 867 yards as a rookie and earned the nickname "Gallopin' Gale." Sayers led the league in scoring that year with 22 touchdowns, a record that stood for 10 years and remained a rookie benchmark into the twenty-first century. Among his nearly two dozen scoring runs that year, Sayers scored a total of six touchdowns in a single game on December 12, 1965, to tie the earlier standing records of Ernie Nevers and Dub Jones set in 1929 and 1951, respectively. Sayers, with his unprecedented statistics, received the NFL Rookie of the Year title for the 1965 season and was named to the Pro Bowl that year.
In 1966, his second year with the NFL, Sayers amassed 1,231 rushing yards to lead the league, and he led in the standings with a total yardage gain of 2,440 yards that same year. Sayers was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time in 1966 and for the next two years in succession. In 1967, 1968, and again in 1970, he received the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award. Additionally, the NFL named Sayers to the first 50-year all-star team.
As a professional player with the NFL, it was damage to Sayers's knees that brought his career to an untimely end by 1971, following separate and unrelated injuries to each knee, for which no support garment might compensate. Because of the limited medical technology of the era, Sayers was forced to undergo extensive restorative surgery and intensive therapy after the first injury to his right knee in 1970. He returned to active play in the Pro Bowl in Los Angeles, California, that year and earned the Most Courageous Player Award from the Pro Football Writers. A subsequent injury to his left knee during the following season left him completely ineffective to perform as the extraordinary darting running back of his previous years. He retired officially from active play in 1972 at the age of 29. Yet in his retirement he left an impressive set of statistics in the NFL record books, including all-time leader of kickoff touchdown returns.
After Pro Ball
While his right knee recuperated in 1970, Sayers wrote an autobiography entitled I Am Third, and in 1972 he collaborated with Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese in writing a manual called Offensive Football, which was published by Atheneum. Sayers, who lacked only 10 credits toward his bachelor's degree when he signed with the Chicago Bears, completed his undergraduate work at KU in his retirement. He earned a post-graduate degree in education from that same institution and served as assistant athletic director at his alma mater, beginning in 1973. He also held a post as director of the school's Williams Educational (athletic) Fund. In 1976 Sayers became athletic director at Southern Illinois University.
Sayers was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977. On July 30 of that same year he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in what was his first year of eligibility following his 1972 retirement. Nearly two decades later, in 1996, he was named to the All-Time All Big 8 Team by his college conference (now Big 12).
In addition, Sayers embarked on an entrepreneurial career and founded Crest Computer Supply Company in Chicago, Illinois, in 1984. Under the personal leadership of Sayers as president and chief executive officer, the company realized $55.2 million sales in 1994. Crest Computer Supply, renamed Sayers Computer Source, expanded into reselling and system integration by 2001.
In addition to his financial ventures and other responsibilities, Sayers contributes articles as a columnist to the Chicago Daily News. He is the father of one daughter and five sons. His first marriage to McNeil ended in divorce, and he was remarried on December 1, 1973, to Ardythe Elaine Bullard. His community involvement and board memberships encompass social welfare groups and athletic corporations. Among them, he served as an honorary chairman of the American Cancer Society. Sayers sits on the board of trustees of the Chicago chapter of Boy Scouts of America, the Marklund Children's Home, BBF (formerly Better Boys Foundation) of Chicago, and Cradle Adoption Agency. Sayers also served as alumni spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. From 1992 to 1997 he was a member of the National Board of Junior Achievement, and in 2000 he was an alumni representative for the Kansas University Athletic Corporation.
Sayers, Gale, I Am Third, Viking Press, 1970.
Forbes, September 14, 1992, p. 522.
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"Sayers Takes the Ball and Runs with It," Hawk Zone, September 20, 2000, http://www.hawkzone.com/stories/092000/foo-kuacsayers.shtml (December 14, 2000). □