GALE SAYERS … MEMBER OF THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY ALL-TIME TEAM … 3-TIME NFL ALL-STAR GAME MVP … ALL-TIME NFL KICKOFF RETURN LEADER … NFL RECORD 6 TOUCHDOWNS IN ONE GAME (VS. SAN FRANCISCO), 1965 … NFL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, 1965 … NFL HALFBACK, CHICAGO BEARS, 1963 1971 You don’t develop good teeth by eating mush. EARL BL AIK, Army football coach, 1941 1958 GALE SAYERS 193 Ifelt I could do things a little faster and a little quicker even at the age of eight, playing midget football. I guess I felt I could see things a little differently than the other kids I was playing with and against.
THANKS, COACH My major success comes from what I learned from coaches as a kid. For example, when you go around the left end, hold the ball in your left hand so you can use the stiff arm. Even today, runners don’t know how to do that, even in pro ball. People ask me today how I get my meetings to start on time and why I am so rarely late and I say, Thank my football coaches. If I was as much as ten seconds late for a practice, not only wouldn’t I be allowed to practice, but I wouldn’t be allowed to play in the next game. But I was also rarely late because my dad would never let me be late or allow me to talk back to my elders. It was all about respect.
My coach backed up my dad and my neighbor backed up my coach and my dad. We had such a sense of community back then, it was almost impossible for my life or career to go south. HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE CHILD STAR STATUS? I was never given star status as a kid because part of understanding the game is knowing that you don’t score without blockers or without a quarterback, and you don’t win without a great defense. So I was not looking for nor did I receive special treatment. I never thought about going pro. I never even thought about playing high school football until I got there.
I never thought of playing college football until I actually joined the team. And I certainly never thought about the NFL. HE ALWAYS BELIEVED Ten kids from my hometown died in Vietnam. I wasn’t thinking about the pros; I thought I was going to war until my dad and coach told me to try college, where they said I could play at the next level. My dad was a 194 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME real straight talker, so when he said I should try college ball, even with my mediocre grades, I instantly agreed to try. As you know, I went to Kansas (where he became the Comet) and then got drafted. By the Bears, not by Uncle Sam. If it wasn’t for my dad and my high school coach, I would probably be dead in some Vietnam field. HOW I KNEW I BELONGED Even when I got into Kansas, I still wasn’t sure I could be a college player until one freshman varsity scrimmage. Our defense was more than a little mean and no one back on our team wanted to run the ball against them. But I just knew that I could be effective, and seeing the others shrink from running against them made me, for some reason I’m not even sure of, more confident. It was a similar thing with the Bears.
They drafted me number-one, but I wasn’t sure I could be a pro runner until I went to practice. I saw other running backs who were good, but I thought I was quicker, faster, with better field vision. I knew that if they gave me a chance, I could do this. In our first game against the L.A. Rams, I ran back a kickoff for ninety-seven yards and a punt return for sixty-five yards. I also threw a pass for a touchdown. Then I knew for sure that I belonged. STEPPING IN FOR DAD: PAUL HORNUNG Paul watched me play in a game in which we lost 23 14 and came up to me and said something I will never forget. He said, Gale, if you continue to work hard you could be one of the best backs to ever play this game. To hear something like this from a guy like Paul, well, I will never forget it and neither will he.
PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED I knew how we looked when we practiced. I knew what my blockers had to do. My questions were more along the lines of, what happens if they don’t make that block? That’s why I learned to always be ready for the unexpected. When things went wrong, I had to make it work, not let myself get tackled and take a loss. I would call on my peripheral vision and try to see ahead of the play. GALE SAYERS 195 LEARNING TO COME BACK/LEARNING TO QUIT My first real injury came in 1968. I came back from it, though, and led the league in rushing. The second injury came in 1970, and that one was more serious. After that, I just never felt right. I told my coach that I would try to run in one exhibition game and if I didn’t feel right, I was through. I ran the ball three times and fumbled once.
At halftime, I said, It’s over. From the day I played, I was prepared to quit. I made myself ready. I studied to be a stockbroker in the off-season because I knew I had to have a job because then we weren’t making the money they make now. The highest salary I ever got playing football was sixty thousand dollars. SAYING GOOD-BYE TO BRIAN As I mentioned, I lost a bunch of friends from high school in Vietnam, so the concept of death was not new to me. But Brian Piccolo’s sickness and death at twenty-six took me and the nation by surprise. Four months after that, my mom died, and so it might have been the toughest year of my life. Walking away from the game was tough, but compared to watching your best friend and your mom die, it doesn’t even rate. FOOTBALL OVER. GAME ON! I had success in business after football because I worked just as hard at business as I did football. I wasn’t looking for any easy job and there wasn’t one waiting for me. I got my stockbroker’s license when I was playing and I made it work.
I had more talent in football than stocks, but like I did when I was in pads, I hit just as hard on my research and analysis. I know I probably had more natural talent in sports, but so did thousands of other peoplepeople who know me know how hard I worked to be successful and how hungry I was. Gale Sayers was never looking for any star status. Ever. And after Wall Street, I was able to become the first black athletic director in the country. GOALS NOW No one has given me anything because my name is Gale Sayers. I do well with my computer company because I have a better product and give bet- 196 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME ter service. I’m not trying to be the next Bill Gates. I just want to work hard and see how far I can go. It’s all the samesports and businessit’s a team game: the sales team, the marketing guys, the warehouse workers, even the people in the mailroom. If I didn’t have a great team, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Sure, I can get a few meetings and some investors on my name alone, but after they’ve got my autograph they want to see a plan and the product, so I have to perform. So far I’ve been successful at meshing sports and business. I always go to meetings dressed to play. There’s no doubt that I’m prouder of what I do today than of what I did for the Bears thirty-five years ago.
The key to my success is surrounding myself with good people. They know I’ll be in at 5:00 am and they can’t beat me to work. They see I’m not late and so my people know not to be even a minute late to my meetings. DOES IT ALL MAKE SENSE TODAY? Yes, it does. God gave me a gift and he took it away, and I’m sure it’s all for the better. If I had played another three or four years, I wouldn’t be in this business, nor would I have been the first black athletic director in the country. MY WRAP It’s a rare person who could go from superstar runner to entry-level stockbroker. Sayers did it by using all the principles of sports to make him as respected in business as he was as a running back. He saw how good he could be and worked twice as hard as anyone else. So many are willing to just play on talent alone. Sayers had to max out his ability and is doing it in computers today as he did on the football field decades ago.
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