The Kansas Comet Gale Sayers passed away this week at the age of 77. A savant when it came to running the football, he changed how the position of tailback was perceived. Playing in the wrong decade prevented him from creating awe inspiring career totals, but a torn up knee in 1971 can’t play the following year like in 2020. What does it say when a player makes the Hall of Fame after only playing 7 years for a losing franchise? A whole helluva lot.
Generational Defensive Mechanism’s
How do you weigh how good a player was? You stand back and measure the era they played in of course. If you were a slugger in the 80’s when everyone wore powder blue road uni’s, played on turf, everyone looked like they weighed 180 pounds soaking wet, and stealing bases was a thing, then yeah cracking 30 plus home runs is a big deal. Doing it anywhere from 1997 to about 2006. Not so much of a big deal. (Because, you know, steroids). It’s a little harder to ascertain in football. For that, you need to be aware of how league coaching strategy either set free or hampered certain marvelous players. Like the baseball analogy above, someone chucking the ball around the yard for 300 plus yards and 3 TD’s might be a league leader one week in the 2000’s NFL, but in 1988, that’s a monumental performance.
With this being said, “those in the know” (you know, Twitter hot take jockeys), love to profess how well one player in another era could do today. It’s almost like a reflexive defense to the era you follow and have an emotional attachment to, and objectivity is not the main course. Talented, mentally strong wing players tend to fit in anywhere. And that’s the point. The best of the best, the elite. No one is doubting the nutrition, weight lifting, and training acumen that has exploded in the past 20 plus years, and the above average versus the above average in a vacuum might not bode well for the old timers, but we’re not here to debate fake things that could never happen. Speaking of…….
Canton busts are given out only to the deserving
The perennial Pro Bowlers in the 70s/80s/90s, wouldn’t look out of place in second versus the current ones. If you were an elite perennial Pro Bowler last century, you could get dropped in 2020, and no one would know the difference. Again, that’s a select few. Reggie White’s inhuman strength. Barry Sanders lateral movement. Kellen Winslow’s tall gazelle running. Dan Marino’s blink of an eye release. The Juice before he got squeezed. Walter. Eric Dickerson. LT off the edge. Bruce Smith. But, have ya met Gale Sayers?
“Dude, of course you are going to pimp Gale Sayers, he’s in the damn picture on your blog.” Sure I am! Sometimes being objective means you’re also right. Maybe I have the picture with him and Butkus on my wall, and no, I’m not some old boomer waiting for their home phone to ring while they print out directions on mapquest. Maybe I have watched the NFL network “Dick and Gale” special a few times. Who is to say, but it’s not bias when you’re the thesis you declare holds up in court.
They have a few nice jerseys no one can wear anymore
The Bears of the 60’s and 70’s weren’t anything to write home about by any means. My favorite thing about them is that they played at Wrigley field during this time, right before having the football/baseball combination stadium became en vogue. A whole generation of who we politely (wink wink) call Boomers, grew up this, as their silent generation parents took them to watch a couple of guys stand out well above the others. You could argue whether it was fair that say the 70’s Steelers ( or for a short burst the 90’s Cowboys) had so many Hall of Famer’s that were able to buttress each other up that allowed them to stand out more made their team obviously a great legacy, but it made the production Sayers, Butkus, and even Mike Ditka’s stand out even more.
Wrap it up like the Macy’s gift counter at Christmas
Football isn’t a team sport, but you can’t pick your team in the pros. Michael Jordan played with a trash fire his first three years, but collective society knew what a nuclear weapon he was. But maybe that’s why a guy like Sayers’ legacy stands out so much. To be arguably the best athlete of your short era is a testament to itself. The guy’s highlights on YouTube or the NFL network are still incredible 50 years later. Comparing eras and deflecting and defending modern times only really means that the giants of the past can be considered a threat if that magical time machine that transport them to our modern era, ever had its say.
As a history teacher, the past is why we have the present, for all of the good and the bad. All of the adjustments of the modern game are built off of analyzing what came before us. Technology has certainly helped with this, and every coach is always looking for the next advantage. When you get that one outlier that stands out light years above the rest, there is no need to put them into a box. Gale Sayers was a magnificent player for his, and any generation.