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setter of seven NFL records, in a 5-year career
Gale Eugene Sayers was born in Wichita, Kansas, on May 30, 1943, and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. A star running back at Omaha Central High School, he was offered scholarships by no fewer than 75 different colleges. He chose the University of Kansas.
During his career at KU (1961-1965) "The Kansas Comet," as he was called, rushed for a total of 2,675 yards, including an NCAA record 99-yard rush from scrimmage against Nebraska in 1963, and was twice named All-American tailback.
Sayers was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL and the Chicago Bears in the NFL. Despite a better financial offer from Kansas City, Sayers chose to sign with the Bears.
In his very first game for the Bears (a pre-season match-up against the Los Angeles Rams), Sayers raced 77 yards on a punt return, 93 yards on a kickoff return, and then scored with a 25-yard pass reception. In his fifth game, Sayers scored four touchdowns in a 45-37 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. On December 12, 1965, the rookie halfback tied the NFL mark for most touchdowns in a game by scoring six against the San Francisco 49ers; the final score of that game was 61-20. Those touchdowns included an 80-yard screen pass and an 85-yard punt return. He accounted for 336 yards that game -- 113 on rushing, 89 on receptions, and 134 on punt returns. By the end of his rookie year he would score a total of 22 touchdowns, an NFL record that would stand for 10 years and which is still the record for touchdowns scored by a rookie player; his total of 132 points scored also remains a rookie record. He also accumulated a total of 2,272 yards rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs and punts. It is no wonder that he was named the NFL Rookie of the Year.
Sayers in his rookie year as a Bear
In the 1966 season, Sayers ran for a career-high 1,231 yards, winning his first rushing title. In 1968, just three years into his professional career, Sayers was voted first-team halfback on the NFL's All-Star Team of the First 50 Years.
At 6-foot tall and 200 pounds, Sayers wasn't exactly a bruiser, but what he lacked in size he more than made up for in speed and agility. According to legendary coach Red Grange: "Gale detects daylight. The average back, when he sees a hole, will try to bull his way through. But Gale, if the hole is even partly clogged, instinctively takes off in the right direction. And he does it so swiftly and surely that the defense is usually frozen."
Sayers' career took a horrible turn midway through the 1968 season, when a hit by the 49ers' Kermit Alexander left him with ruptured cartilage and two torn ligaments in his right knee; he was out for the remainder of the season. Despite the seriousness of the injury, Sayers began the slow process of rehabilitation and physical therapy. He returned to the Bears' lineup in 1969 and ran for 1,032 yards, winning his second rushing title. In 1970 the Pro Football Writers of America honored him with the George Halas Award as "the most courageous player in professional football."
Sayers dedicated his prize to friend and teammate Brian Piccolo, who was dying of cancer. The story of his friendship with Piccolo was later immortalized in the 1971 made-for-TV movie "Brian's Song," which starred James Caan as Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Sayers. Sayers also detailed his friendship with Piccolo in his 1973 autobiography, I Am Third.
In an exhibition game in 1970, Sayers suffered a stretched ligament in his left knee. He played two regular-season games with the injury, but could not maneuver with his usual skill. He underwent surgery to repair the knee, but his speed and agility were seriously compromised and he was forced to give up playing just prior to the 1972 season.
By the time his short career (just 68 professional games) came to an end, Sayers had gained a total of 9,435 yards -- including 6,213 yards running and receiving -- and scored a total of 56 touchdowns -- including eight on kickoff and punt returns. He had carried the ball 991 times for a total of 4,956 yards (an average of just over 5 yards per carry). And, he had set seven NFL records and 23 team marks. Named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons, Sayers was voted the outstanding back of those games three times.
In 1973, Sayers was hired as the assistant athletic director at the University of Kansas. Soon after, he became director of the Williams Educational Fund. In 1976, he left Kansas to become the athletic director at Southern Illinois University.
In 1977, at the ripe old age of 34, Sayers became the youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has also been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Kansas Hall of Fame, and the Black Athlete's Hall of Fame.
Not one to be discouraged by his football injuries, Sayers took the time during his rehabilitation periods to further his education and earn a Masters of Science degree in Educational Administration from KU, in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education. He also underwent financial management training at the New York Institute of Finance. In 1984, Sayers formed Crest Computer Supply Co. (now called Sayers Computer Source) in Chicago. The company became quite successful, posting sales of $55.2 million in 1994. Today his company is a world-class provider of technology products and services.
In addition to his computer company, Sayers works with several charities, including the Better Boys Foundation, Junior Achievement, the Boy Scouts of America, the Marklund Children Center for handicapped children, the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Cradle Adoption Agency, and the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund.
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This page was last updated on September 22, 2017.