Hadl, Sayers have come a long way

Friday, September 4, 2009

They can wheel and deal in the best of social circles with style and grace and solid articulation. That doesn’t hurt a bit in their efforts to raise money for the Kansas athletic program.

But if you’d tried to tell me back around 1955-60 that John Hadl and Gale Sayers would ever be the poised and polished public figures they have become, I’d have given you directions to the funny farm. Time was when neither one could look you in the eye and speak up. Lots of mumbling. They’ve come a long way, baby.

Nanny Duver was the legendary Central Junior High football coach who early in my career here said, “I think I’ve got somethin’ real special out here. He can do a lot of things real good.”

Nanny was referring to Hadl, a shy but talented junior high footballer who could, and would, run, throw, kick, block and tackle and even sell programs if you asked him to. Nanny had sent a lot of good ones to Lawrence High and would send a lot more. Yet he figured this kid had a peculiar sort of excellence because along with everything else, “he’ll figure out some way to beat you.”

John didn’t have a lot to say and didn’t say it very plainly when you pressed him. Then he’d step onto the football field, the basketball court, the baseball diamond and such and speak volumes in glowing fashion.

By the time he graduated from LHS in 1958, Hadl had begun to emerge as a communicator, and with all his accomplishments in football and administration, he has become a nifty loot-gatherer who’s a fixture on the KU staff.

Now Gallopin’ Gale is coming to help Hadl and the Lew Perkins conglomerate raise millions of more dollars, a lot of which will aid other realms of the university, beyond sports.

Jack Mitchell somehow recruited Sayers for KU (Nebraska was livid) even though his weak Omaha high school grades didn’t allow a scholarship. He never had his hand out and went to bed hungry now and then, but he did well enough academically to set the stage for what he considers his four greatest achievements.

As a freshman here, Sayers, like Hadl, was withdrawn, didn’t speak very clearly, seldom looked right at you. But he was driven. “I know the people up north were saying I was too dumb and timid to make it in school or on the field,” Gale told me one time. “Said they’d grease me through school, slip me money under the table and just hope I could play.” His four milestones of pride:

1—Earning a KU bachelor’s degree; 2—Earning a master’s degree here; 3—Proving he was tough enough in college and earning All-America; 4—Showing he had the guts and talent to excel in the NFL (only 58 games due to injury; chosen in the all-time backfield).

Smart enough, good enough, ever-improving as a social animal who could speak out on a personal or podium level.

His message to kids (same for Hadl): “Prepare to play well and prepare for when you have to quit. You get no education, shame on you!”

If you get a chance, watch the movie “Brian’s Song” with Billy Dee Williams and James Caan (as Brian Piccolo). It’s a great capsule of how far that almost-reclusive kid from Omaha has come, and it’s accurate.

Now the mumbling Hadl and Sayers are confidently prowling, heads high, for big bucks for their beloved KU. Considering their modest beginnings, KU couldn’t find a better pair of advertisements heralding the way it can develop kids.