Saints Ex-Head Coach Hank Stram's pursuit of Gale Sayers
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced this morning the death of NFL Hall of Fame and former Chicago Bears halfback Gale Sayers at 77 years old. Growing up I was mesmerized by Sayers due to his speed, quickness, his ability to make people miss in space, and he was as tough a guy as you could find knowing he was playing on one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Growing up a little more, you admired Gale Sayers for being a man and a spiritual person who cared about others, championed different causes, and did it with little to no fanfare. He was a gentleman and a tremendous person.
Back in 1995 and 1996, I got to talk to former Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints head coach Hank Stram (who did a weekly show on WWL-Radio) about Sayers, and he talked at the highest level about the “Kansas Comet.”
HANK STRAM THOUGHTS ON GALE SAYERS
“Gale Sayers is one of the greatest football players I ever saw,” Hank Stram said. “We (Kansas City Chiefs) drafted him in the 1965 AFL draft. That year we had the draft before the 1964 season had ended. Gale went to Omaha Central High School in Nebraska. He went to the University of Kansas. He was a natural for us to select. Back then you didn’t necessarily pick the best player on the board, but the best player that you could sign away from the NFL.
We had recruited Gale for two years. Our owner Lamar (Hunt) actively recruited him. I recruited him. He not only was the best player on the board, but he was a local player. We thought we had him. And then when we saw the (Chicago) Bears picked him we were really confident we could sign him. “Papa Bear” Halas-the owner of the Chicago Bears had a reputation for not spending a lot of money on a player and he also selected Dick Butkus that year and he was an Illinois guy. We made a good offer to Gale, but it should have been a great offer. We were too confident we had him, and you know the rest of the story, and Halas got him and Butkus that year. I have never been so disappointed in my coaching career to not land a player.
I called him after he told us he was signing with the Bears and we tried to get him to reconsider. That wasn’t Gale. He had given his word to the Chicago Bears, and that decision was final. He is one of the finest human beings you will meet up with. Just a great character young man, a hard worker, team player, and someone that gave you everything he had out on the field. With modern medicine, that knee injury was an easy fix, but that was not the case back in the 1960s. He’s one of the all-time greats. Just a career ended so quick1960s I asked Coach Stram what made Sayers such a great player, and he gave me a long explanation.
“There was nothing he couldn’t do out on the field,” Stram added. He had field vision and peripheral vision like no one I can remember. The only player I have seen since with that ability is Barry Sanders with the Detroit Lions. And like Barry Sanders, he had the heart of a lion too. You could not wear him down. For a smaller back, he was physical, tough, could break tackles, and seemingly was falling forward. His speed was world-class. He was a track sprinter and long-jumper in high school. Gale had second and third gears he could put in play, and he was fast in pads. Some fast guys on a track aren’t as fast with pads, and a helmet-well Gale was. He could make himself small and then pop out the back end of a scrum. Sayers was an unreal receiver with natural soft hands, and he made the catch and then pop his head around and race up the field at top speed. He scared you to death as a return man.
If it was a punt or a kickoff return, if the first guy didn’t tackle him, Sayers was off to the races. Jim Brown was a different style of runner. Jim was a power runner with great speed, and he would either outrun you or run over you. Sayers was a “vision runner” with speed and moves, and he flat out embarrassed you out on the field. There isn’t a week go by that I don’t think about having Gale on that same team with Lenny (Dawson), Otis Taylor, our tight end Fred Arbanas and our offensive line in Kansas City. Didn’t happen, but looking back in the 1960s, that mistake not to make Gale Sayers a “Godfather” offer he could not refuse is the biggest personnel mistake we made as an organization. And I repeat Gale was a great guy, the great talent on the field, a super hard worker, and a fantastic teammate.”
Mike Detillier is a Contributor and Analyst for the Saints News Network. As an NFL Draft expert, Mike has been featured on ESPN, CBS Sports, WWL Radio, and many other sports television and radio programs.