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.

NFL quarterback rankings 2023: Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown ahead of upcoming NFL season


While the NFL is a league that is ever-changing, some things are set to stay the same in 2023 — like the revealing of Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown.

Last year’s list saw Josh Allen take his place atop the quarterback throne, with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert not far behind at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. It was, however, Mahomes who would ultimately reign over all NFL quarterbacks at the end of the season, as the 27-year-old collected both the NFL MVP honors and his second Lombardi Trophy.

This NFL offseason, however, has brought some intriguing adjustments that are likely to shake up Simms’ rankings.

While some signal-callers such as Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson found their prolonged home with massive contract signings, others will be venturing to a new franchise in search of a fresh start. Aaron Rodgers‘ trade to the New York Jets is unquestionably the most staggering shift, but other quarterbacks on the move such as Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo cannot be forgotten.

RELATED: Mike Florio gives an inside look into the Lamar Jackson deal

And with three of the first four picks in the 2023 NFL Draft being spent on a quarterback, emerging talent will likely turn the tides for some franchises this upcoming season.

See below for Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown ahead of the upcoming season. Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL season as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: Peter King’s latest offseason NFL power rankings

Chris Simms’ 2023 Top 40 QB Countdown:

40. Desmond Ridder (ATL)

39. Sam Howell (WAS)

38. Bryce Young (CAR)

37. CJ Stroud (HOU)

36. Anthony Richardson (IND)

35. Mike White (MIA)

34. Gardner Minshew (IND)

33. Taylor Heinicke (ATL)

32. Jarrett Stidham (DEN)

31. Jordan Love (GB)

30. Davis Mills (HOU)

29. Tyler Huntley (BAL)

28. Andy Dalton (CAR)

27. Sam Darnold (SF)

26. Brock Purdy (SF)

25. Kenny Pickett (PIT)

24. Baker Mayfield (TB)

23. Justin Fields (CHI)

22. Jimmy Garoppolo (LV)

21. Tua Tagovailoa (MIA)

20. Mac Jones (NE)

19. Kyler Murray (AZ)

18. Derek Carr (NO)

17. Jared Goff (DET)

16. Ryan Tannehill (TEN)

15. Geno Smith (SEA)

14. Russell Wilson (DEN)

13. Dak Prescott (DAL)

12. Kirk Cousins (MIN)

11. Daniel Jones (NYG)

10. Matthew Stafford (LAR)

9. Deshaun Watson (CLE)

8. Aaron Rodgers (NYJ)

7. Jalen Hurts (PHI)

6. Trevor Lawrence (JAX)

5. Lamar Jackson (BAL)

2023 NFL Schedule Release: Start time, how to watch, live stream, channel


With another exciting NFL Draft in the books, teams can now turn their gaze toward the road to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. The path to Super Bowl glory, however, is about to become abundantly more clear with the 2023 NFL season schedule release.

This year’s NFL season schedule release is nearly here, with the entirety of the 2023 NFL schedule being unveiled on Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m. ET on both Peacock and NFL Network. See below for everything you need to know for one of the offseason’s most anticipated events.

RELATED: Click here for full analysis on Rounds 1-7 of the 2023 NFL Draft

When will the 2023 NFL season schedule be released?

While all 272 matchups have been known since the conclusion of the 2022 regular season, the order and dates for these games have remained a mystery. The secret is nearly out, however, with every NFL game on the brink of revelation.

The full 2023 NFL schedule will be released on Thursday, May 11 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

How can I watch the 2023 NFL season schedule release?

The 2023 NFL season schedule release will take place Thursday, May 11 on Peacock, NFL Network, NFL.com and the NFL app at 8 p.m. ET.

While the entirety of the schedule will be unveiled at that time, select games have already been and will continue to be released prior to the official event. Ahead of the 2023 NFL season schedule release, the following games will be announced:

Who will play in the 2023 NFL Kickoff game?

The first game of the 2023-24 NFL season will see the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs take the field in Arrowhead Stadium.

The opponent that will meet Patrick Mahomes and company in Kansas City, however, remains to be revealed.

Which NFL teams have international games in 2023?

While the majority of the matchups set to take place next season have yet to be announced, the league has already revealed which teams will head overseas for international showdowns.

Below is the full list of international NFL games for the 2023-24 season, with three in London, U.K., and two in Frankfurt, Germany.

Falcons vs. Jaguars: Week 4, Oct. 1 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Wembley Stadium in London, U.K.

Jaguars vs. Bills: Week 5, Oct. 8 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, U.K.

Ravens vs. Titans: Week 6, Oct. 15 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, U.K.

Dolphins vs. Chiefs: Week 9, Nov. 5 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany

Colts vs. Patriots: Week 10, Nov. 12 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany

RELATED: NFL’s 2023 international games full of “star power”

When is the Super Bowl and where will it be taking place?

Stars will be shining bright in Las Vegas, Nevada, for Super Bowl LVIII, set to take place on Feb. 11, 2024, at the home of the Raiders in Allegiant Stadium.

This will be the first Super Bowl to ever take place in Las Vegas, which hosted the 2023 Pro Bowl and 2022 NFL Draft.

Be sure to follow ProFootballTalk for the latest news, updates, and storylines about the upcoming NFL season!