Friday, May 2, 2008

Mayer: No one better than Gale


Back when Jack Steadman was administering the Kansas City Chiefs football program considerably better than Carl Peterson does today, K.C. made what could have been its best draft selection of all time. K.C.'s draft choices over the years have ranged from outstanding to annus horribilus, but the No. 1 pick in 1965 could have been the best.

The choice was Gale Sayers of Kansas during a time when the new American Football League and the NFL were dueling tooth and nail. The Chicago Bears also went for Sayers, and a major bidding war began. Owner Lamar Hunt of K.C. said to go for broke, and even the penurious George Halas of Chicago embraced a showdown.

Galloping Gale will tell you the offers were dead even. But Sayers had, and still has, a close friend in Curtis McClinton, who also starred at KU and then became a Chief standout. Curtis up-front-and-personal told Gale that if he signed with K.C., as a black citizen he'd be able to get a fine house in a poor neighborhood or a moderate dwelling for wife Linda and himself in more posh surroundings. Gale and Linda decided on the Bears.

Chicago got a sensational rookie who made the pro hall of fame and the all-time NFL half-century lineup even though knee injuries limited him to only 65 pro games. The Chiefs did OK, of course, when Steadman and Co. were doing so much better with personnel, and won the 1970 Super Bowl after falling to Green Bay in the first inter-league face-off.

If you want a perfect example of a star who developed as far more than a football player, start with Gale Sayers. The first three of his top four sources of pride developed at KU and helped make him an NFL legend.

Born in Wichita, he glistened as a high school back in Omaha, Neb. Not sure how Jack Mitchell got this then-bashful kid to Kansas, but Gale came without a scholarship because of non-qualifying grades, refused to go around with his hand out and went to bed hungry now and then. He did well enough in class to get that grant-in-aid, and so began what he considers his greatest achievements.

"When I came to Kansas, the people up north were saying I was too dumb and too timid to make it in college," Gale would say in some of those visits we used to have when he lived three doors away. "

Those four milestones of pride: 1- Earning a bachelor's degree at KU; 2- Earning a master's degree here; 3-Making All-America as a Jayhawk; 4-Proving he was as good as anyone the NFL ever saw. Smart enough, good enough and then some.

"I try to emphasize this to kids when I talk to groups," Sayers says. "It's all in the package. You have to prepare to play well, and you have to prepare to quit. You get no education, SHAME ON YOU!"

He's done well in a number of fields; still is besieged for autographs, interviews and endorsements; was a focal point of what to me is the all-time best sports movie, "Brian's Song" - about his relationship with fellow Bear Brian Piccolo, claimed by cancer far too early. I'm talking about the original with Billy Dee Williams and James Caan, not that cheapo effort a few years ago. The real beauty is it's true; no script-finagling needed.

Gale and Linda eventually split, and he married his inimitable Ardie. Another major achievement. There are no better sports, or any other, stories of success than that of Gale Sayers of Kansas, who could've been a Chief in 1965.


63Jayhawk 11 years, 10 months ago

Gale Sayers did it all, ran the ball, caught the ball, and returned kicks. He IS the best running back of all time.

actorman 11 years, 10 months ago

A lot of times I've seen movies that I used to love and wondered why I loved them. That's not the case with Brian's Song. I saw it again recently and marveled at what a classic it still is today. And of course it still made me cry, even though I've seen it many times before. I'm not sure if I'd rank it as the number 1 sports movie of all time, but there's no doubt it's in the top 5.

number1jayhawker 11 years, 10 months ago

And I'm glad it is his likeness that sits on top at the front of the new FB facility.

11 years, 10 months ago

"Curtis up-front-and-personal told Gale that if he signed with K.C., as a black citizen he'd be able to get a fine house in a poor neighborhood or a moderate dwelling for wife Linda and himself in more posh surroundings. Gale and Linda decided on the Bears."So what was it that Chicago offered that was better than KC? Just curious if anyone knows.We were certainly fortunate to have him at KU, and he remains an incredible ambassador for us.

troutsee 11 years, 10 months ago

Amen. I was fortunate to see him play thoughout his KU career. They can talk about OJ, Sanders, Smith, all they want but Sayers was hands down the best.

Joe Ross 11 years, 10 months ago

Something that I love to boast about is that my mother once dated Gale Sayers. My uncle (by marriage) James Foster was a player on the Creighton University football team in Omaha. Being a standout athlete himself, he ran in circles with Gale Sayers while Gale was yet in Omaha. Jim introduced Gale to my mother and they went out on a couple of dates. I've always felt a personal connection to Gale because of this (justifiably or not), but the fact that he was a standout at Kansas and a good human being in general makes me appreciate him much more! Hes a great part of Kansas history!

Bill Kackley 11 years, 10 months ago

Gale was pretty shy. Had a couple of classes with him and he was alwyas very quiet but easy to talk to. He was a nice young man.

Dyrk Dugan 11 years, 10 months ago

Gale Sayers may have been the best RUNNING back of all time....emphsize running. When he was in the open field, he was gone. He could cut and not lose a millisecond of speed. He was phenomenal. If he doesn't get hurt, he would have had one of the most recognizeable and dazzling NFL careers ever. The fact that he was voted into the Hall of Fame, after such a brief career, points to the greatness that he had. What a great treasure he is for KU athletics history.

MartinS 11 years, 10 months ago

While I know this is an article that focuses on KU, I couldn't help but comment to Mr. Mayer that he's got to joking when he says, "Back when Jack Steadman was administering the Kansas City Chiefs football program considerably better than Carl Peterson does today". While Peterson had some very lean years, Steadman ran the Chiefs into the ground through the 70's and 80's. While the Chiefs were know as "The Chefs" from '73 to '87 the only constant in the Chiefs organization was Steadman, everything else changed from coaches to player personnel directors, to scouts. When Peterson came in he at least understood how to build a modern NFL organization. While I'm not implying Peterson was some sort of savior by any means, he was a huge improvement over Steadman which doesn't say much for Steadman. I don't say this with any glee as I know Mr. Steadman has passed away, but I thought it was wrong to characterize Steadman as some sort of genesis.

FlaHawk 11 years, 10 months ago

Gale could do it all. Catch, return, rush and throw! The best part is that he had a great mind and did something with it!Does anyone remember was 40 time Gale had. They did not measure 40s back then and the awesome Mr Sayers was more quick that flat out fast. This is what made him so impossible to catch in the open field.To bad he played on some pretty poor KU teams that could not get him open more!

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