Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 40 Days with Gale Sayers

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears / Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
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Today marks just 40 days until the start of the 2023 NFL campaign, meaning that today's edition of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff will focus on the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 40, legendary running back Gale Sayers.

Gale Sayers goes from Nebraska All-Star to top Chicago Bears draft pick

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Sayers grew up just north of the state in Omaha, Nebraska, where he attended Omaha Central High School. As a teenager, Sayers was a dominant football player for the school and led the offensive charge as one of the nation's top running back prospects. In his final two seasons, Sayers was able to lead the state in scoring twice en route to earning two All-State nods. In his junior season, the running back led his team to a state championship after finishing the regular season with an undefeated record.

Sayers was also a dominant track athlete during his Nebraska high school record, including recording a state long jump record that lasted for nearly 40 years. He was selected as an All-American track athlete in high school, but upon his graduation in 1961, Sayers elected to continue playing football, doing so at the University of Kansas.

In college, Sayers' dominance on the gridiron picked up steam, and after effectively redshirting his freshman year, the running back was an integral part of the team for his first three seasons. As early as his sophomore campaign, Sayers was the team's featured back, and he finished his first year of playing with nearly 1,200 total yards and seven touchdowns.

Over his next two seasons in college, Sayers turned into one of the nation's premiere talents. Nicknamed the "Kansas Comet", the back recorded nearly 1,900 total yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior and a senior. In three years of playing at Kansas, Sayers led the team in rushing and total touchdowns thrice while earning two First-Team All-American nods. Serving as a team captain throughout his collegiate career, Sayers also earned a number of college all-star game invitations following his final season.

After his dominant career at Kansas, Sayers entered into the ensuing 1965 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Chicago Bears with the fourth overall pick. The Bears added a number of other great players in this class, including drafting future Hall of Famer Dick Butkus with the third overall pick and adding full back/running back Brian Piccolo as an undrafted free agent, both of whom would go on to have very tight relationships with Sayers throughout their professional careers.