Another Sports Icon Has Passed
It was June of 1985 and I was the Sports Director at 92.7 WOBM and part of their morning show as well. I was contacted by someone at Six Flags Great Adventure who asked if I would consider hosting a question-and-answer session later that month as part of a Superstar Sports Spectacular weekend. On Saturday it was a baseball theme featuring Tug McGraw, Whitey Ford & Brooks Robinson, and the next day it was football with Phil Simms, Mark Gastineau, and Gale Sayers. When they told me I would get $250 for the weekend I jumped through the roof to say yes.
Basically I was hosting a sports forum in which fans could ask questions and my job was to move things along and add in what I thought was appropriate. The baseball session was great but I was really looking forward to the football one to meet Sayers, the Hall of Fame running back whose career with the Chicago Bears ended at the age of 29 because of injury.
While I marveled at his ability on the field when I was just a teenager I was not really a fan until I read his autobiography “I Am Third” which would be the basis for the made-for-TV movie “Brian’s Song.” If you are old enough you certainly remember the movie which I have watched probably 50 times and cried at the end every time. It focused on his relationship with teammate Brian Piccolo who died of cancer at the age of just 26 in 1970.
The book was tremendous and I was anxiously looking forward to getting to meet Sayers who was known to be shy and rarely talked about himself…a far cry from many of today’s stars. We met in what was a makeshift green room and he was with his second wife Ardythe. Everyone was making a big deal over Simms and the colorful Gastineau who were both popular active players but for me, it was all about speaking with Sayers. He was indeed humble but I think I surprised him with my knowledge about his career, relationship with Piccolo, and other details from his book. We hit it off and eventually, we became pretty comfortable with one another. He was a gracious and true gentleman and to this day I regret not getting a picture or autograph. But I did get to meet one of the truly great players in NFL history who was even better off the field.
Gale Sayers died today at the age of 77 after battling dementia for several years. I have a wonderful memory of a June day 35 years ago and for that I am thankful.