Georgetown, KY – Although the piggy-back booking of former NFL great Gale Sayers was practically last moment, June 24 will be a lasting memory for those who got to meet and hear the legendary Chicago Bears running back. The Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group, which honored the Sixties star with their annual award the night before in Lexington, brought him to campus; Friday evening, Sayers was inducted into The Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame.
John Heck ’87 read in this alumni e-newsletter the day before Sayers’ appearance and just “had to bring” his young family of four down from Dayton to hear sports journalist Billy Reed engage him in a special summer “Conversations with Champions” event at Georgetown College’s Thomas & King Conference Center. A longtime fan of Sayers’ fellow Hall-of-Famer Dick Butkus, Heck said his passion for the Bears “just expanded from there.”
Reed’s interview delved into Sayers’ brief-but-spectacular football career, the special friendship that he (a black man) had with teammate Brian Piccolo (a white man who died young of cancer) – and the movie “Brian’s Song” that immortalized them both, his thoughts on leadership, his strong views on how the NFL should do more for injured players from the league’s early years, and life-after-football. After this “fireside chat,” several audience members got to ask questions – including Heck’s children, Philip (10) and Ellie (8).
Philip couldn’t have set Sayers up any better with “What do you think was your best year?” The answer: His second season, repeating with more than 1,000 yards gained to again lead the league – the only player to ever accomplish that and made even more special because he was coming back from a bad knee injury.
Then, Sayers was kind enough to to drop by and speak with the 120 young participants in the Bill Cronin Football Camp. He relished telling the boys the same story about his nearly unfathomable feat. But first, the campers (age 8 through high school seniors) oohed and ahh-ed through a highlights reel of Sayers’ best juking runs as a Bear.
When the lights came on, Sayers said “I had a gift. I hope you’re listening to your coaches – your father on the field – because you don’t have that gift – yet.”
Cronin, the GC Tigers head football coach, would later say, “His visit was pretty special – everyone, including our coaches, was in awe.”
Billy Reed told the campers, “Rarely do you get to be in the presence of true greatness as you are right now.” He was talking not only about Sayers, the great athlete, but also the successful businessman and an ex-player who knows what it means to give back.
Billy Reed became the College’s second Executive Scholar-in-Residence last summer (former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins was and still is the first). His role includes heading up GC’s new Academy for Character in Sport, which was established to address the well-documented decline of character, integrity and ethics in sports and the media. And, Friday he suggested that he and Sayers – who is known for his tutoring and mentoring – should talk more about helping each other’s causes. Follow Reed’s blog at acs.georgetowncollege.edu