Sayers was already a legend in 1967 after two pro seasons, when Rick Volk, a safety from the University of Michigan, tried to defend against him while a college all-star team was training at the Bears’ camp.
“He was amazing,” Volk recalled in 2017. “He was running off tackle, and I was the safety and came up to fill the hole. I was two or three feet from him. I was right there. He made a couple of moves — whoo-hoo! I had him dead to rights. He was so quick.”
Another meeting came in 1968 after Volk was established with the Baltimore Colts. “I was playing right safety, and he was running a sweep to his right — my left,” Volk recalled. “Mike Curtis came up and Gale reversed to his left. We had him stopped. But he reversed again, and I had an angle on him, but I couldn’t catch him.”
Sayers later likened his 59-yard touchdown run to a slapstick movie chase and claimed he had run past Bubba Smith, the huge Baltimore defender, three separate times. Sayers called it “the greatest run of my professional football career.”
Asked to describe his strategies and techniques, Sayers told Sports Illustrated in 1965: “I have no idea what I do. I hear people talk about dead leg, shake, change of pace, but I do things without thinking about them.”
It all came crashing down on Nov. 10, 1968 — Sayers’s fourth season — when Kermit Alexander of San Francisco tried to take out Sayers’s lead blocker. When the player moved, Alexander crashed into Sayers’s right knee.
“It’s gone,” Sayers told Alexander, who stayed to comfort him.
“It was my fault, all my fault,” Alexander said. “God, you never want to hurt a player, never. Especially a great player like Gale.” Sayers exonerated Alexander.