THE KANSAS COMET: NFL legend and Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers, also known as "The Kansas Comet," passed away earlier this week at age 77. He was suffering from dementia. I mention this not only to honor perhaps the most electrifying running back in NFL history, but also to note that the man whom I'm writing a biography about, George Allen, drafted Sayers in 1965.
Allen is widely remembered as the head coach who transformed the Los Angeles Rams into one of the league's most dominant teams in the mid to late 1960s and performed the same feat for the Washington Redskins from 1971 to 1977.
In 1965, a year before Allen went to L.A., he was the defensive coordinator and head talent scout (which would be the same as general manager today) of the Bears. In the first round of the draft, Allen orchestrated the greatest back-to-back selections in NFL history. The Bears chose Illinois linebacker Dick Butkus with the No. 3 pick and Sayers of Kansas at No. 4. Those acquisitions will forever leave football historians and enthusiasts in awe. Today, Butkus is regarded as the greatest middle linebacker ever, and Sayers is among the all-time best at his position. Not surprisingly, both were selected for the NFL Films 100 greatest team, which was announced last year. Plus, their Hall of Fame inductions mark the only time that two players from the same team who were selected with back-to-back picks have been enshrined—both on their first ballot, no less.
Dan Pompei, a long-time Chicago sportswriter and co-author of the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook, told me this:
“How the Bears got Butkus and Sayers with the third and fourth picks, that’s something Oliver Stone might want to do a movie about,” he said in reference to the famed film director. “On a list of the greatest all-time football players, it would be impossible to have Butkus and Sayers out of the top 20. They would probably be in the top 10 for a lot of people, maybe even higher than that. To accomplish what the Bears accomplished, both in knowing the talent and being able to get Butkus and Sayers, was improbable and incredible.”
That same year, Allen signed Wake Forest running back Brian Piccolo, the leading rusher in the nation in 1964.
After playing mostly a backup role to Sayers in the coming seasons, Piccolo died in June 1970 from a virulent form of testicular cancer that had spread to his chest. He was immortalized in the tear-jerker 1971 TV movie “Brian’s Song,” which brought to life his close interracial friendship with Sayers.