#2 Gale Sayers


After Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns in a 1965 NFL game, he couldn't understand what all the media commotion was about.

After all, he had scored seven touchdowns earlier in his career.

Granted, that seven-TD performance came when he was playing for the Roberts Dairy midget football team while growing up in Omaha. Still, it remains a fond memory for the NFL Hall of Famer.

"That's one of my first athletic memories and one that I enjoy the most," he said. "I still have the clipping from that game."

Despite a professional playing career cut short by injury at age 27, Sayers remains one of the most revered athletes from Nebraska. Though he was born in Wichita, Kansas, and played college football at Kansas, Sayers still considers Omaha home.

"We moved when I was 8 or 9," he said. "They didn't have any football leagues for kids in Wichita, so moving here really gave me my first chance to play."

Sayers grew up in north Omaha, the son of a car polisher and mechanic. He enjoyed playing tackle football against boys much older than himself at Kountze Park, along Florence Boulevard between Pinkney and Pratt Streets.

"I was 13 and playing against guys who were 19 and 20," he said. "I think that helped make me a better athlete because I did not want to get hit by those guys."

He went on to become a star running back at Omaha Central, earning all-city honors twice and All-Nebraska distinction as a senior. He also was a standout at track, and his long jump mark of 24 feet, 10 1/2 inches stood 44 years before it was broken in 2005 by Bellevue East's Robert Rands.

Sayers became a hot recruiting target, and more than 75 colleges offered scholarships. He chose Kansas because he liked coach Jack Mitchell and it was relatively close to home.

Dubbed "The Kansas Comet" by the KU sports information director, Sayers earned All-America status in 1963 and 1964. He rushed for 2,675 yards during his career and was the first in FBS history to score on a 99-yard run from scrimmage — against Nebraska in 1963.

Sayers was drafted by the Bears and signed a contract that paid him $25,000 per year. He was the fourth pick overall and was selected immediately after the Bears had taken another future Hall of Famer, linebacker Dick Butkus.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Sayers was named the Rookie of the Year after scoring 22 touchdowns, including his six-TD performance against San Francisco that tied an NFL record. His career lasted seven seasons, but only 68 games because of two devastating knee injuries.

By the time he retired, Sayers had 9,435 combined yards — 4,956 rushing — and scored 336 points. At age 34, in 1977, he became the youngest player to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. He also entered the College Football Hall of Fame the same year.

"I'm proud of a lot of my accomplishments," he said. "But I think the education I received was one of the most important because it helped me prepare for life after football."

Sayers locally is in the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame, the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame and the Central High Hall of Fame, all as part of their first induction class.

Quick facts about Sayers

Related: Sayers sitting pretty

Played for: Omaha Central High, Kansas Jayhawks and Chicago Bears

Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: "There are a couple of names that come to mind: Bobby Williams, Bob Hohn and Kent McCloughan. They were all outstanding."

Best moment as an athlete: "That's hard to say. I was proud of the fact that I made all-state two years in a row and was named the MVP of the Shrine Bowl. I was also proud of my long jump record (24-10 1/2, in 1961). And I was proud that I had earned a college scholarship."

At Central: Scored 243 career points (39 touchdowns) and ran for 1,112 yards as a senior

At Kansas: Rushed for 2,675 yards and gained 3,917 all-purpose yards

NFL: 4,956 rushing yards, 39 rushing TDs, 9,435 all-purpose yards, 56 total TDs

Nebraska 100: 2005 edition

Sayers was No. 2 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »