Gale Sayers Enshrinement speech

Pro Football Hall of Fame
July 30, 1977

George Halas (presenter)
Thank you. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed a distinct honor to be with you today at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the town of Canton and its gracious people have always welcomed me and I thank you. For me and for you, Canton is the birthplace of the National Football League. The date September 17, 1920, the place Ralph Hay’s auto engines  agency, the parents, 17 men representing seven clubs who had unheard of dreams for their child. 

Since that day and until today, July 30, 1977, it has been the most priceless privilege of my professional life to see our dreams come true and to watch our ugly duckling develop into a magnificent eagle. For this privilege I thank the men of football, men who were and are very special men, who have no equal.

Today it is a pleasure to offer my congratulations and congratulations of the Chicago Bears to Frank Gifford, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr and Bill Willis who join the ranks of those who made our dreams come true. Gentlemen today you take your rightful places as members of the Hall of Fame. Congratulations.

Now I will tell you publicly that each of you did your job so well that you were the cause of many sleepless nights for me. As you helped defeat my beloved Bears. I have caught up now with my sleep and will remember only how pleased I am to share this occasion with you.

Now may I take a few moments to tell you about your fellow enshrinee who not only helped make our dreams come true but also who captured my heart, Gale Sayers. Gale Sayers, magic in motion. The first time I saw Gale Sayers was on film when my assistant had some Kansas University highlights and we watched them over and over again and I was puzzled I could not believe what I had seen. I knew I was not watching Red Grange. I knew I was not watching George McAfee. I knew I was watching someone special. And I was watching someone I wanted very much with the Bears but it wasn't easy.

Lamar Hunt also had the rights to Gale and that was a pretty tough assignment. Luck was with us in the person of Buddy Young who helped us get Gale and I am always indebted to Buddy Young.

When I first met Gale, I was impressed with the man. In practice he was 100%. In run plays he always ran the entire distance to the opposite goal. His teammates admired and respected him because he was always razor sharp physically. Gale recognized that his inherit skills would mean very little without the help of the blockers and he continually expressed his gratitude to them. Gale was respected by his opponents as well.

I will never forget the afternoon of the first injury which resulted by a clean tackle by Kermit Alexander of the 49ers. When Kermit came to the dressing room and said how sorry he was that it happened, that showed what a great man he was.

Gale Sayers had many great games as a Chicago Bear. In his rookie year, he scored 22 touchdowns. One rainy afternoon on a muddy field, he scored 6 touchdowns against San Francisco. In a tough game at Green Bay where the Bears won 13 to 10, and Gale ran 205 yards. For this he received Vince Lombardi's accolade who said it was the finest performance he had ever seen.

You can see his greatest performance was not on the football field. After a serious injury in 1968 he came back in 1969 to lead the National Football League with a 1,000-yard season. For this remarkable feat, his injury he received the most courageous award for the most courageous player at the New York football writers dinner. When Gale was presented with his trophy, he
Said, ‘tonight this trophy is mine, tomorrow it will be Brian's’. And the next day he gave the trophy to Brian Piccolo, his friend.

If you wish to see perfection as a running back, you had best get a hold of a film of Gale Sayers. He was poetry in motion. His like will never be seen again. Gale Sayers is 34, athletic director of Southern Illinois University. Gale is the youngest player ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. With a captured heart and a voice of love, I proudly present for induction into the Hall of Fame, Gale Sayers.

Gale Sayers:
Most people of my generation refuse to acknowledge or give credence to others that have helped them in life. I am being enshrined because of my physical ability and because of the teammates.  But there is another side to a professional football player, and that is to stay mentally alert in a case of a physical injury that might shorten your career.  By being mentally afloat, I meant to seek out all season job opportunities when I came to the game.  I did from the start.  In my first three years, I had job opportunities from two companies.  It kept me mentally afloat and gave me the incentive to go back to school and finish my undergraduate degree and my master’s degree.  It brings to mind what I was all about in the first place.  I went to college not as an athletic student, but a student athlete.

No one can get here alone, however.  So I want to express my thanks to a few people who have made it possible for me to be here today.  I want to say a special thanks to my high school coach, Frank Smagous.  It was he who really got me started in football.  He taught me the fundamentals and helped give direction to my life.  I am now and always will be deeply indebted to him.  I want to give thanks to my college coach, Jack Mitchell.  Coach Mitchell recruited me to the University of Kansas and became not only my coach but a very personal friend. 

And I want to give a special thanks to George Halas, a man who more than anyone else who has made professional football what it is today.  There is not much you can say about someone who has become a legend in his own lifetime, but I want to try.  Mr. Halas is one of those rare individuals who is not content with the things as they are, but sees the way they could be and works to make things better.  I cannot thank him enough for all he as done for me and my family and many others of the National Football League players he has touched. 

And finally, I want to thank the many people I played with in the NFL, teammates and opponents alike. They were great years for me. And I am very appreciative of having the opportunity of playing with such great athletes. 

God gave me a great gift and I had a lot of help developing for this occasion.  Reaching this point, however, is not as important as striving to get here.  This is true in all professions and all of life's activities. There are doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, plumbers all who strive to do their very best with their abilities. We hear a lot today about how the American people have lost their dedication to excellence.  I don't believe that is true.  Each of us excels at different things, sometimes in areas that are only a hobby, more often in our life vocation.  The most important thing, however, is to strive to do our very best.  Nothing is more of a waste than unrealized potential.  Sometimes failure to use one’s talents to the fullest is often the fault of the individual.

Nothing could be more tragic. I am sure many of you have been to a Special Olympics and if you have, I am sure you have felt the same exhiliration I have felt in watching young people with disabilities strive as hard as they can in various events.  The sense of satisfaction they get from striving is to them much more important than where they finish in the competition. As Robert Rawlings said,  ‘A man's reach should exceed his grasp’. It is describing to reach a goal that is important and if you should reach that goal, set new goals and strive for them.

A long-time basketball coach at the University of Kansas, Dr. Phog Allen was once asked what was your best team.  He responded by saying ‘ask me in 25 years and let me see what they have done in life’.  It is not enough to rest on yesterdays triumphs, but to continually strive for new goals and accomplishments. 

Again, I am very deeply honored to be here today as I know the other inductees are. I hope when we look back 25 years from now, we can see this not as a zenith of our accomplishments but as a milestone in a life of striving for excellence, striving for even more distant goals. 

This is a great day in the life of Gale Sayers. It is a great day for my family. It is a great day for Southern Illinois University, and I am very proud to be among the 1977 Class of Inductees. I just hope I can live up to this honor.

Commissioner Rozelle, ladies and gentlemen. I am deeply honored to be inducted today into the NFL Hall of Fame. For anyone who has ever played football, this is the highest recognition that can be bestowed and I am both honored and grateful for this recognition.