Gale Sayers was more Houdini than halfback. Whenever it appeared
he was trapped by a cluster of defenders, Sayers invariably
wriggled out of their reach and escaped, leaving a trail of
disbelieving players and fans. It's no wonder that Chicago Bears
teammates referred to him as Magic, long before Earvin Johnson
became synonymous with the moniker.
More than 30 years later, as founder and chairman of the Sayers
Group, LLC, a Mount Prospect, Ill.-based company that provides
technology solutions and posted $250 million in revenues in
2001, Sayers, 59, wishes he could magically stimulate the flat
tech economy--he had to lay off 75 of his 300 employees last
year. "Tech's been hurt," says Sayers, who was an Ernst & Young
Entrepreneur of the Year in 1999, "but we're starting to see
On the advice of fellow running back Jon Arnett, Sayers got
interested in business and began working for PaineWebber in
Chicago during his second season with the Bears, in 1966. "We
didn't practice on Mondays, so I'd go to the office," says
Sayers. "On Fridays we'd have light practice, so I'd go to work
afterward. [Coach George] Halas didn't care. He knew I'd be
ready to play on Sunday." Following the 1967 season Sayers
studied for and passed the stockbroker's exam, launching a
five-year dual career as a broker-running back.
As a rookie Sayers gained 2,272 total yards (rushing, receiving,
kickoff and punt returns), and he led the league in rushing
during his second year. But in the ninth week of the 1968
season, while carrying the ball on a sweep, he tore ligaments in
his right knee. After surgery Sayers came back in '69 to again
lead the NFL in rushing. The following year was devastating: His
backup and friend, Brian Piccolo, died of cancer, and Sayers
suffered serious ligament damage in his left knee. His second
comeback failed, and he retired on the eve of the '72 season.
Sayers's brilliant career lasted only 68 games.
Interested in athletic administration, Sayers returned to his
alma mater, Kansas, and completed work on his bachelor's degree
in physical education, and then earned a master's in educational
administration. In 1976 he became the athletic director at
Southern Illinois; after five years he decided to seek an NFL
front-office job, but no team had an opening. He moved back to
the Chicago area, where he started his technology solutions
company in 1984. "Adversity has helped me grow," says Sayers.
"If I had played longer in the NFL, things may have turned out
differently." --John O'Keefe
now he runs his own technology solutions company.