The Kansas Comet and Syracuse’s Force of Power
John and Gale
Our History Need Not be A Black Mystery
When I was eleven years old way before ESPN or the NFL Network there was simply National Football League televised on the Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) and the American Football League televised on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). You had college football broadcast on the American Broadcasting Company with the all three media companies broadcasting the New Year’s Bowl Games. So you rarely got to see college football teams outside your geographic area. So the first real glimpse of this halfback from Kansas University came when Gale Sayers arrived in the 1965 Football Draft along with Dick Butkus to the Chicago Bears and arrive he did with the flamboyance of gleaming shining star that shone brightly each and every Sunday afternoon. Gale Sayers was number 40 and believe you me Gale Sayers was indeed the brightest new star on the planet. That season was the initial season of Jim Brown’s abrupt retirement from professional football. It was the days of rock’em, sock’em football, the days of anything goes football but Gale Sayers was different he was sleek, quick, incredibly fast, quite agile and not hostile. He made defenders marvel at his deceptiveness. His ability to react, cut on a dime, reverse field and turn a 5 yard gain into a thing of beauty. Gale was the embodiment of Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton rolled up into one and he had the incredible speed of OJ Simpson. Give Gale Sayers six inches and he’d take 90 yards, damn that brother was magical. When I read the article yesterday out of Kansas City discussing the dementia Gale Sayers was battling and has been battling for four years, It made me sad because although I remember all the magic Gale Sayers performed on the field of play. Gale most likely has no idea of just how great he was. You see Gale Sayers played a sport that eventually deprived him of all those memories. Gale Sayers isn’t old by any standard he is only 73 years old 10 years older than I am. Yet, all the memories of his greatness are now simply my and others memories no longer do those feats come alive in the mind of Gale Sayers.
It’s similar to the story of the great number 88, John Mackey, who I watched from the age of 9 until the age of 19 play with a fierceness that defied belief. I mean John Mackey was a rolling locomotive who simply couldn’t be stopped by any single individual. Big John Mackey defined tight end play in the National Football League catching passes from Johnny Unitas while I was a youngster growing up in Baltimore. John Mackey also suffered from dementia and eventually passed long before his time. John Mackey’s feats on the field of play belong now to the ages. However just like Gale Sayers now John Mackey had no memories of those feats in the latter stages of his life. I got a chance to meet one John Mackey’s daughter Lisa when I was working as an educational sales representative and you could see the strength of John Mackey when you interacted with his daughter Lisa. Yet I often wonder why players of such greatness have their memories taken from them because of the game they played and loved so much. The game of football is a game of extreme violence, created by physical impact and human collision. It’s a game that displays great mental and physical feats of action coming from those engaged in playing this game. Yet it also is a game that snatches away the capacity for those who engage in the sport to revel in those feats later in life. As a matter of fact, the game depicts in later life the ruins of how fragile the human body truly can be. These young men who played the game were at the peak of athletic power when they performed on the gridiron. However, in their later years, they become symbolic images of the cruelty of those performances. You see to us they will always be etched in the film we see these incredible men always young and virile. Yet in their minds, they have/had neither the memories to hold on to nor the mental capacity to live life without tremendous support. Both Gale Sayers and John Mackey were incredibly bright men whose brilliant mental strengths outside the field of play were quite impressive. I know that both sacrificed plenty just to excite the fans who supported them on Sunday’s. I also know that neither anticipated that the sport that loved would be cruel in the final analysis to them.
I also read that Dwight Clark whose incredible catch won the San Francisco 49’ers a shot at it’s worst Super Bowl Championship in 1981 has ALS. So, someone who used his legs and hands changed the fortunes of the 49’ers and began that move to overall team greatness will not be able to use those hands and legs at all shortly. The cruel irony is that Dwight Clark will live the remainder of most of life not being able to discuss the feelings he felt on that particular day. One of my Facebook friends when posting the published news account of Gale Sayers expressed along the post these two words “No Words”, well I do have words and those words come from the heart. How can I ever feel comfortable watching football knowing that these gladiators in later life will suffer such an immense price for our entertainment? How has this game become America’s Game when in later life the game turns those players into America’s Shame, and the football league owners look around for someone other than themselves to blame.