What made Gale Sayers so special and why he’d fit in well in today’s NFL

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George Halas, the 70-year-old head coach of the Chicago Bears in 1965, stepped in front of reporters after rookie Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns in a 61-20 victory over San Francisco on Dec. 12, 1965.

“That,” Halas said, “was the most impressive game I’ve ever seen by a player in all my years in football.”

Halas had been playing or coaching pro football since 1919.

I loved Sayers, who died this week at age 77 after living with dementia. As a kid who grew up loving all sports, I remember Sayers was the first athlete who amazed me. How does he do that? Take a minute and watch this highlight reel of the six touchdowns by the 6-foot-1 comet who was a chiseled 200 pounds—80-yard screen pass and sprint, 21-yard run and dive, 7-yard run, 50-yard run, 1-yard dive landing his head in the end zone, and 85-yard punt return, with a cut left at his own 40-yard line that looked like it had to have been done on a pristine field with zero slippage, not on a muddy bog after some heavy rain at Wrigley Field.

Sayers touched the ball 16 times that day. He gained 336 total yards. The next year he had a 339-yard game, and when the NFL turned 50 in 1970, those were two of three biggest all-purpose yardage games in NFL history.

Did you see number 64 in white (or white and mud) on that highlight package? You might have seen 64 flopping around in the mud like so many of his Niners mates on the video. That’s Dave Wilcox, the Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker. He’s 77 now (78 tomorrow), and was 23 that muddy day at Wrigley. I spoke with him the other night, and his memory of the day is quite good.

“I remember that day very well,” Wilcox said from his home in Oregon. “We woke up in the hotel in Chicago that morning and we were kind of happy. ‘It’s gonna rain! It’ll slow Sayers down!’ I tell everyone if they hadn’t run out of oxygen that day, Gale might have scored six more. I remember our game plan—if they threw passes in the flat for him, they wanted us [the linebackers] to cover him. I said, ‘You want US to cover that guy? We won’t even get close to him in the tunnel before the game!’ “

On that screen pass, Sayers took it to his right, and then Wilcox flashed on the film briefly, but Sayers put his foot in the ground, sprinted left, and he was gone. No chance for any Niner. Time and again: Sayers is running pretty normally, and everyone else is slipping all over the place. His cut on that 85-yard punt return caused two Niners to go careening past comically.

“You look back,” said Wilcox, “and the first thing you say is, ‘How lucky was I to be in the same ballpark that day, on the field with such a great player?’ After a while, you knew there was no way anyone would catch him—he’d have to trip or slide. Jim Brown was bigger and stronger, but there was nothing like Sayers’ speed and quickness. I mean, to this day, I haven’t seen anything like it. Not even Barry Sanders. He’s the only one who’s close. No human being should be able to change directions with the quickness and speed Gale had.”

The next season, at the Pro Bowl, Wilcox and Sayers were in the same locker room for the first time. They hadn’t met. Wilcox approached him and stuck out his hand.

“Gale, my name’s Dave Wilcox, with the 49ers,” he said. “I just wanted to meet you and see what you looked like up close.”

Three other things about Sayers.

He’d fit in well today, in all ways. Not only would he be a Kamara-type force in a spread offense, only quicker, but he’d be right with Patrick Mahomes and Malcolm Jenkins off the field too. After being drafted by the Bears, while finishing his senior year at Kansas, the Bloody Sunday march was held in Selma, Ala. The next day, Sayers was arrested while staging a sit-in to protest discrimination at KU housing and Greek housing. “They respect me as a football star, but not as a Negro,” he told reporters.

He helped break down racial barriers. In 1967, the Bears roomed Sayers with a white backup running back, Brian Piccolo. It was the start of a three-year friendship on and off the field that ended when Piccolo died of cancer in 1970. Piccolo pushed Sayers to come back from a major knee injury in 1969, and Sayers doted on Piccolo when he was ill. In early 1970, Sayers was presented with the league’s most courageous player award for the 1969 season, and he told a New York banquet crowd that the award was his that night, but it would be in Piccolo’s hands the next day. That’s why you might have seen the Bill Dee Williams/James Caan “Brian’s Song” movie on TV last week. Seven months after scoring his final NFL touchdown, Piccolo died in New York. After the movie came out, the students in a New York City middle school were so inspired they got the city to rename the school after Piccolo.

He’s an interesting Hall of Fame argument. Over the years, people have pointed to the short career of Sayers (68 games, four full seasons, only 991 rushes) as an example of over-rewarding a meteoric career. My retort: Watch the grainy highlights. To me, Sayers was spectacular enough in his four full seasons to earn a spot in Canton, and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that his 30.56-yard average kickoff return is the best in NFL history and hasn’t been touched in the 49 years since his retirement. I’ve always thought Sayers is the classic example for Hall voters of judging what your eyes see, not what the stats say. And the stats are pretty good anyway, just shallow.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.

Super Bowl 2023: What to know about national anthem, pregame performers ahead of Super Bowl LVII

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Super Bowl LVII is inching closer, and while we may not yet know which two teams will take the field, we do know which performers will take the stage.

The NFL revealed on Jan. 24 that Chris Stapleton, Babyface, Tony Kotsur, Sheryl Lee Ralph and others will take part in the Super Bowl pregame festivities, completing the list of entertainers that will perform in the southwest.

Super Bowl LVII will take place on Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. EST. See below for the full list of performers that will be present at the big game.

RELATED: Click here for more information about Super Bowl LVII

Who is singing the Super Bowl national anthem?

Chris Stapleton will be performing the national anthem at State Farm Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday. The country music star is an 8x Grammy, 15x Country Music and 10x Academy of Country Music Award winner.

Born and raised in Kentucky, Stapleton spent years in Nashville as a songwriter before debuting his solo album, Traveller, in 2015. The album, best known for its No. 1 hit “Tennessee Whiskey”, propelled Stapleton to stardom, sweeping the Country Music Awards and eventually going platinum. Since then, Stapleton has released three other albums, the latest entitled Starting Over, which debuted in 2020.

RELATED: Ranking the most memorable Super Bowl national anthems of all time

Who else is performing during the Super Bowl pregame?

Babyface, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Tony Kotsur, among other performers, will take the field during the pregame ceremonies of Super Bowl LVII.

The 12-time Grammy-Award winner Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful” prior to kickoff. The 64-year-old recording artist, songwriter and producer has had 125 Top 10 hits, 44 No. 1 R&B hits and 16 No. 1 pop hits.

Emmy, Critics Choice and Independent Spirit award winning actress Ralph will perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Ralph is best known for her role in the hit comedy series “Abbott Elementary”, a part which earned her the distinction of being both a 2023 Golden Globe nominee and Critics’ Choice Award winner. The 66-year old Connecticut native also won an Emmy for “Abbott Elementary” this past September.

RELATED: Who performed at the Super Bowl 2022?

Kotsur is also make an appearance in the Super Bowl pregame, performing the national anthem in American Sign Language on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf. The Arizona native has broken boundaries in the entertainment world, becoming the first deaf man to win an Academy Award for acting this past year. His part as the character of Frank Rossi in the movie “CODA” is what earned Kostur the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Joining Kostur at the Super Bowl is two other deaf performers, as Colin Denny will perform “America the Beautiful” in ASL and Justina Miles will sign “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as well as the halftime show in ASL.

Who is performing at halftime of Super Bowl 2023?

On February 12, 2023, Apple Music announced that singer and entrepreneur Rihanna will headline the inaugural Apple Music Super Bowl Halftime Show. The telecast will be produced by DPS with Roc Nation and Jesse Collins serving as executive producers, and Hamish Hamilton serving as director.

First entering the pop music scene in 2007 with her first album Music of the Sun, Rihanna has since dominated the industry, garnering 14 number-one Billboard songs from her eight albums. The Barbados native has sold over 200 million records and won eight Grammy awards. She has also proven to be a successful entrepreneur, launching her cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty in 2017 and clothing line Savage X Fenty in 2018.

How to watch the Super Bowl 2023

Check out ProFootballTalk for more on the 2023 NFL Playoffs as well as game previews, picks, recaps, news, rumors and more. 

How to watch San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles: Live stream info, start time for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game

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It’s the San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday, January 29 as the two teams go head-to-head in the NFC Championship game. Kickoff time is at 3:00 p.m. ET. See below for additional information on how to watch Sunday’s game.

RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs Schedule – Bracket, game dates, times and TV networks for Conference Championships and more

San Francisco 49ers:

The San Francisco 49ers look to win their first Lombardi Trophy since the 1994 season and they could likely do it with third string QB Brock Purdy, who will become the fifth rookie quarterback in NFL history to start a conference championship game this Sunday. Purdy, who was the very last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, moved up the depth chart after Trey Lance sustained a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2 and Jimmy Garoppolo broke his foot in Week 13.

RELATED: 49ers Super Bowl history – When is the last time San Francisco made it to, won the Super Bowl?

The 49ers pulled off a 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in last weekend’s divisional round marking the team’s 12th straight win. Additionally, this will be the third time in 4 years that San Francisco has reached the NFC Championship game. Purdy finished 19-of-29 for 214 yards in the win. RB Christian McCaffrey had 16 touches for 57 yards while TE George Kittle had five catches for 95 yards.

RELATED: Brock Purdy, Jalen Hurts met in a 2019 college football classic

When was the last time 49ers made it to the Super Bowl?

The 49ers most recent Super Bowl appearance was in 2019 when they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 31-20.

RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs – What to know about SF QB Brock Purdy Ahead of NFC Championship game

Philadelphia Eagles:

The Philadelphia Eagles delivered a crushing 38-7 blow to the New York Giants last Saturday, clinching their first NFC Championship berth since 2017. QB Jalen Hurts, who has been nursing a right shoulder injury sustained in Week 15, finished 16-of-24 for 154 passing yards and two touchdowns in the win. After the game Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni compared Hurts’ impact to NBA legend Michael Jordan.

RELATED: Eagles Super Bowl history – When is the last time Philadelphia made it to, won the Super Bowl?

“To have him out there is like — I know this is high praise, but to have him out there is like having — I shouldn’t even go there — it’s like having Michael Jordan out there. He’s your leader. He’s your guy. Hopefully that’s the biggest respect I can pay to him comparing his ability to being on the field to a Michael Jordan type. This guy leads. He brings this calmness to the entire team. He plays great football. He’s as tough as they come. Yeah, I mean, to me, nobody has played any better football than him this year.”

The Eagles’ defense took care of business on Saturday with five sacks on Giants QB Daniel Jones improving to a total of 75 sacks in all regular and postseason games this season which is the third-most in NFL history.

RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs AFC, NFC Championship Round Schedule – Dates, start times, how to watch/live stream info for Sunday’s games

When was the last time the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl?

The Eagles last Super Bowl appearance was in 2017 when they defeated the New England Patriots 41-33.

How to watch San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles:

  • Where: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • When: Sunday, January 29
  • Start Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
  • TV Channel: Fox

What time is kickoff for the San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles game?

Kickoff is at 3:00 p.m. ET.


Conference Championship Round Schedule:

Sunday, January 29

NFC Championship Game:

San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles – 3:00 p.m. ET on Fox

  • Where: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

AFC Championship Game:

Cincinnati Bengals vs Kansas City Chiefs – 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS

  • Where: Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023: Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more