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.
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