Why Sayers' greatness would've transcended any NFL era


This is the offensive line Gale Sayers ran behind in 1965, his rookie year:

  • Herman Lee (left tackle): 6-foot-4, 244 pounds
  • Mike Rabold (left guard): 6-foot-2, 239 pounds
  • Mike Pyle (center): 6-foot-3, 250 pounds
  • Jim Cadile (right guard): 6-foot-4, 240 pounds
  • Bob Wetoska (right tackle): 6-foot-3, 240 pounds

I can’t think of a better illustration of just how different football was when Sayers played. Imagine this being the Bears’ starting offensive line:

  • Ryan Nall (6-foot-2, 239 pounds)
  • Cordarrelle Patterson (6-foot-2, 238 pounds)
  • J.P. Holtz (6-foot-3, 255 pounds)
  • Robert Quinn (6-foot-4, 250 pounds)
  • Nick Foles (6-foot-6, 243 pounds)

The vast, vast majority of football players from past eras would not cut it in today’s NFL, which has players like the 347-pound Akiem Hicks who can do stuff like this:

Sayers is a rare exception. Just watch him glide across the mud at Wrigley Field in his six-touchdown game against the 49ers and tell me otherwise. His agility, his quickness, his grace with the ball – these are all things that made him a Hall of Famer back then, and would’ve made him one had he been born in 1993, not 1943.

“He would’ve been a monster,” Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

MORE: Dan Patrick remembers Gale Sayers

Quinn’s dad is from Evanston and both his parents went to Northwestern, so he grew up hearing quite a bit about the “Kansas Comet.” Sayers famously said he only needed 18 inches of daylight; imagine him getting the ball in open space with all the spread concepts that’ve permeated today’s modern NFL.

“There would have been more open space in some spots,” Quinn said. “I think back then there wasn’t as many three- and four-receiver sets. I think the older heads would agree.

“Seeing him in more space against some defenses, I would say would probably be just as hard to guard in man-to-man. I don’t think back then they put the running backs out in empty and then reloaded them back into the backfield. But if they did, I would have to say that not only would he have been a Pro Bowl player, he’d have been an All-Pro every time. And then kick returning and punt returning to add to it. Pretty rare combination.”


Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson pulled up some highlights of Sayers on Wednesday following the passing of the Hall of Fame running back. And what stood out to him?

“His style of play was very, like, modern to today’s game,” Robinson said.

Bears coach Matt Nagy, in watching Sayers’ highlight reel, noticed his “pure instincts” – which, too, are something that transcends eras.

MORE: Ranking Gale Sayers' greatest games

These comments are massive, massive compliments. Football players are way bigger, way stronger and way faster today than they were a half century ago.

And you know what? Sayers still would juke those guys out of his shoes, and slip their tackles, and glide across gridirons just like he did in the 60’s. 

“There are just guys who transcend any era and would just be a fantastic player,” Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Whether Gale Sayers played 55 years ago or 25 years from now, I have to think he’d be kicking ass and doing it in a lot of the same fashion.”