Gale Sayers came into the National Football League in 1965 as the fourth overall pick out of the University of Kansas. He brought the nickname, “The Kansas Comet” with him to the NFL.
He was recognized as an All-American twice at Kansas.
In 68 games with the Bears from 1965-1971, he ran for 4,956 yards and 39 touchdowns on 991 carries. He also reeled in 112 receptions for 1,307 yards and nine touchdowns in that span.
He took eight returns back for scores (six kickoffs and two punts) during his career in the NFL.
He holds the NFL records for most touchdowns in a rookie season (22 in 1965), most touchdowns in a game (6, tied with Nevers and Jones), highest career kickoff return average (30.6), and most return touchdowns in a game (2, tied with many players).
I had a chance to catch up with Gale this past week and he talked about his playing days, if his relationship with teammate Brian Piccolo was portrayed correctly in Brian’s Song, his foundation (Gale Sayers Center) and much more.
Here’s the interview with Bears legend Gale Sayers.
Q: What do you miss most about now compared to when you were playing football? What part of the game do you miss the most?
A: Today’s players are walking corporations. Its much bigger business today and players are instant multi-millionaires. There is much more pressure on today’s players as well. When I played most players had part time jobs in the off season. When I played the fans probably had easier access to players. I miss the closeness I felt to the fan base when we played at Wrigley. The fans were so close to the field it made for a unique experience.
Q: What was your fondest memory during your football years?
A: Its hard to say what my most fond memory is, but playing at Wrigley before we moved to Soldier field was special.
Q: Was it a tough decision to retire at the time that you did?
A: I had no choice to retire. My knees made the decision for me. I no longer had the explosiveness you need to get away from people. As a running back, the decision is probably easier than say quarterback, because we rely so much on our speed, and maneuverability. Once you lose that, you should retire as a running back.
Q: Do you think with the technology today, you would have been able to continue playing?
A: I probably could have extended my playing career with today’s technology, but I don’t have any regrets. I was still acknowledged for my skills by being elected to the Hall of Fame, so things still worked out great. I also got a head start on my business career at a young age for an athlete.
Q: How realistically was your relationship with Brian Piccolo portrayed in Brian’s Song?
A: The producers of Brian Song did a very good job of portraying my relationship with Brian Piccolo. It was not normal for black and white players to be room mates during training camp back in the sixties. We had no problem with it though and the movie accurately portrayed our friendship.
Q: Obviously football is much different now from when you played, what do you think is the main reason for that? Do you think a specific rule has changed the game as of late?
A: I think the league is trying to protect players so much more than when I played. Now you cant hit a player a certain way or you get fined or suspended. It took a lot more to get fined or suspended when I played. On the field suspensions and fines were rare when I played. Violence was much more accepted as just part of the game.
Q: Talk a bit about your foundation. What exactly is the idea behind it? When and why did you start the foundation?
A: We started the Gale Sayers Center in 2006. Our goal is to provide much needed after school programs like mentoring, computer technical training and public speaking classes. We know that the more time students spend in school the better they do personally and academically.
Q: What is the biggest event you’ve done with it?-I see you have the Golf Classic coming up on May 12 in Michigan and the Evening With the Stars in Niles on Aug 18, what are those events all about?
A: Our biggest event is our annual fundraiser “An Evening With the Stars”. We invite other celebrated athletes from all different sports to join us in raising money for our charity. We have a tremendous group of Hall of Fame caliber athletes who attend the event each year. Last year Mike Wilbon of ESPN hosted the event and we honor athletes who we feel are good role models for today’s youth. Last year Richard Dent, Paul Warfield, Willie Davis and Anthony Munoz attended. It was a great turnout but we can do even better in getting the word out about our event and cause. We are excited to be working with Gossip Genie this year and we hope to reach more potential donors. The golf event is a first for our organization and we are excited to have a less formal fundraiser that is focused around golf. More importantly it gives us another opportunity to reach our target audience.