This is a season in which the National Football League has a crop of startlingly good rookies, but there is now no argument about who will be the Rookie of the Year. That man is Gale Sayers, the marvelously exciting running back of the Chicago Bears. He clinched his case for the rookie award last Sunday in Yankee Stadium as the Bears defeated the Giants 35-14 in a game that also featured two of his strongest first-year rivals: his teammate, Linebacker Dick Butkus, and New York's Fullback Tucker Frederickson.
Enjoying an extravagant day even for a Gale Sayers, the Bear halfback ran 45 yards for one Chicago touchdown and 15 yards for another and threw a southpaw touchdown pass. It did not matter a great deal that the passing touchdown was nullified by a penalty, since Sayers gained 113 yards on 13 carries. That was a little more than twice as many yards as were earned by the Giant team. Sayers also returned two kickoffs for 41 yards and, as an extra fillip, caught two passes for 24 more.
Frederickson, the big Giant fullback, was eclipsed, although he played very well. And fairness requires it to be noted that he played with a sore hamstring muscle and that the young Giant team did not often afford him the luxury of route-clearing blocks.
Butkus, the large, agile and tough middle linebacker, intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble and made himself obnoxious to Giant ballcarriers all afternoon. His was, in its less spectacular way, almost as tremendous a performance as Sayers'.
But the undisputed star of the day was Sayers, a small (for a pro running back), quiet, attentive young man from Omaha who graduated to the Bears from the University of Kansas. While he was at Kansas, Sayers was courted assiduously by the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. "From my junior year on," says Sayers, "they would invite me to see their games. And then they drafted me first and made me a real good offer." Sayers was also the first draft choice of the Bears, whose counteroffer he usually describes as "$4.95 and a carton of Cokes."
Exactly how much more George Halas, who owns the Bears, paid for the Jayhawk flash has not been disclosed, but his gross income for the next three years is probably in the neighborhood of $200,000.
"He is worth every cent he cost," says Halas. "I pay him more than the entire payroll for a season in the old days. Of course, the league maximum then was $100 a game, and we had 18 players for a 10-game season."
Halas, not a fast man with a compliment, compares Sayers to Chicago's two previous running heroes, George McAfee and Red Grange. "McAfee was a quick, darting type of back," George says. "Grange wasn't so quick, but he had a fine ability to change direction and he was the master of the limp leg—giving a tackier a leg and taking it away when he made his move."
Sayers has a style all his own. "He has wonderful speed," Halas says, "and he has tremendous acceleration and a variety of gears. He can lull you into thinking he is going at top speed, and then turn up another notch and be gone before you know it."
Sayers demonstrated this ability perfectly on his first touchdown run against the Giants. During the first quarter he had started wide to his left and had suddenly stopped and lofted a long, wobbly pass to Flanker Back Dick Gordon, another Bear rookie. Gordon caught the ball some 10 yards behind the befuddled Giant defense and scored a touchdown, but the play was called back because of a Bear holding penalty.