The Chicago Bears legendary running back and kick-returner has passed away at 77, but his impact on fans, fellow players, coaches, and the game of football will always carry on.

After seeing the stories about Gale Sayers' death flash up on my computer screen yesterday morning, I got to thinking about how lucky I was to be blessed with the opportunity to interview Gale Sayers on two different occasions.

Sometimes, when you get the chance to meet your heroes, it just doesn't go the way you'd hoped it would. You have an image in your mind of what that person is like, and then when you get an up-close-and-personal encounter, they just don't live up to your expectations.

That was not the case with Gale Sayers.

He was incredibly nice. He was warm. He was friendly. He was eager to chat about "anything you want to ask me," as he told me before we sat down in front of the microphones.

When I asked him about being looked at as a hero by not just Bears fans, but sports fans in general, and even people who only knew about him from watching "Brian's Song," his response was obviously something that he'd thought about. He told me that the real heroes were the men and women fighting in Iraq. I saw an interview with him a couple of years later when he said this about the hero-worship that athletes get: "Athletes as role models and heroes is a hoax, a sick hoax."

I spent a good chunk of yesterday reading pretty much everything that I could about Gale Sayers, and I thought I'd share a couple of things I learned about him that I didn't know, and maybe you don't either:

  • He only played in the NFL for seven years.
  • At 34, he was the youngest player ever inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • As a rookie, Sayers scored 22 touchdowns (a league record at the time, and still a record for a rookie), including the famous 6 touchdowns in one game, still a record.
  • He's an Emmy-winner. Winning for the 1971 TV movie "Brian’s Song," which told the story of his deep friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer.
  • Sayers served as athletic director at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and founded several technology and consulting businesses.
  • After football, he became a stockbroker, sports administrator, businessman and philanthropist.

Of the two interviews I got to do with him, my favorite response from him came when I asked how he thought actor Billy Dee Williams did with portraying him in "Brian's Song." He smiled and said, "He was pretty good, but I'm much better looking. Don't you think?"