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Archive for Friday, May 2, 2008

Mayer: No one better than Gale

May 2, 2008

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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.

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