Reno, Nev. Celebrating his 65th birthday on Friday, nearly 37 years after he retired from the NFL, Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers still remembers the defender who hit him the hardest.
"Dick Butkus, in practice," Sayers said about the Hall of Fame linebacker who was his teammate on the Chicago Bears.
"He came to play. He never took a day off. And it made me a better football player because I knew he was coming to get me. I had to be on alert all the time," he said.
"Deacon Jones was a great football player. Ray Nitschke, all those people hit very, very hard. But in practice - Dick Butkus."
Born in 1943 in Wichita, Sayers said he still works out four days a week and doesn't feel 65.
"I feel 45," he told KKOH Radio in Reno on Friday.
Sayers was in Reno to help raise money at a celebrity golf tournament for a Reno woman, Evelyn Mount, who collects food year-around to help provide Thanksgiving dinners for the needy. He said he had three role models in his life, the most important being his father.
"My older brother was my second role model, and (longtime Bears coach) George Halas was my third role model. All those people had a great influence on my life," he said.
When Sayers left Kansas University after the 1964 season, the Kansas City Chiefs made him the No. 1 draft pick in the AFL and the Chicago Bears picked him first in the NFL draft.
"People thought I was going to go with the Kansas City Chiefs. (Chiefs owner) Lamar Hunt had billions of dollars at that time, and they thought I would go there," Sayers said.
"But I thought if I was going to better myself as a football player, I had to play the best. And I felt at that time, the best football was being played in the National Football League," he said.
"Going to Chicago and meeting George Halas was the best thing that ever happened to me.
"He was a great, great individual and a great mentor of mine, great motivator, a super individual."