Long after playing days, Sayers still making difference

By Tim Chambers
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   Many great running backs have come and gone in the NFL, but none of us who watched pro football during the mid-'60s could every forget the name of Gale Sayers.
   Sayers was in Johnson City Friday at the Holiday Inn to promote this year's annual Salvation Army Soup-er Bowl.
   This event is designed to help the hungry and hurting in the Tri-Cities region.
   Sayers, nicknamed the "Kansas Comet," was born in Speed, Kansas -- rather appropriate for this legendary Hall of Fame running back.
   Sayers broke into the NFL in 1965 after being drafted by the late George Halas and the Chicago Bears. The third pick of the draft he signed a four-year contract for a mere 25 thousand dollars.
   He was named rookie of the year in 1965 after he scored 22 touchdowns a then NFL record. Sayers would go on to win NFL rushing titles in 1966, with 1,231 yards, and 1969, with 1,032 yards.
   Sayers once scored six touchdowns in one game back during his rookie season. He is the all-time NFL kickoff return leader in touchdowns and yardage.
   In 1977, Sayers was honored by becoming the youngest player to ever be selected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
   "I am here because I love helping others," stated Sayers. "I believe that heroes should be role models in today's society."
   Sayers touched on the fact that the average career of a NFL player in today's game is less than four years.
   "It is so important that players get their degrees," added Sayers. "If a player leaves early for the NFL, he should make an all-out effort to go back and complete his education."
   Sayers echoed the fact that he returned to the University of Kansas and completed two degrees after his playing days in the NFL. Today Sayers and his wife, Ardythe, are owners of one of the largest computer firms, "Sayers Computer Source," in the United States to be operated by an African American.
   Sayers is a board member of the following organizations: Junior Achievement, Boy Scouts of America Chicago Chapter, Marklund Children Center for handicapped children, alumni spokesman for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Better Boys Foundation and The Cradle Adoption Agency.
   "I am more proud of what I did after football," said Sayers.
   Sayers touched on some of the differences in today's game as opposed to when he played.
   "Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit had no domes," said Sayers. "Anyone can perform in ideal conditions, but when I scored the record-breaking six touchdowns my rookie season, it was cold and raining hard that day."
   Sayers reminded the audience about the time the Bears would go to Minnesota, and former Viking Coach Bud Grant wouldn't allow any heaters on the sidelines. He touched on playing Green Bay in frigid sub-zero temperatures, and Detroit, where the wind and snow conditions were sometimes horrible.
   "That's the way football was meant to be played," said Sayers. "Pardon me, but I hate damn domes."
   When asked about the recent court ruling that will allow Maurice Clarett to enter the NFL draft, Sayers replied: "Less than one half of one half of one half of kids out of high school could ever go to the NFL. You could take LSU or Southern Cal, this year's college football national champions, and play the worst NFL team and they would lose by 50 points every time they played.
   "The speed of the game is far beyond what a lot of college football players are used to."
   His NFL correct was cut short due to injuries after being named to the Pro Bowl five consecutive times in his career.
   "Back then the Pro Bowl was my Super Bowl, with the winner getting one thousand dollars. We played our tails off to get that extra five hundred dollars," said Sayers.
   In addition to his business success, he has authored a book on the fundamentals of football's offensive strategies, "Offensive Football," and "I Am Third," which was produced into an award-winning movie, "Brian Song."
   Sayers was named to the 75th Anniversary All-Time Pro Football Team.
   His role model manner and greatness on the field will never be forgotten. Nor will his charitable work he does for many organizations, like that of the Salvation Army.