He stubbornly refuses to be just a former football player. Forty-nine percent of the company Sayers started with a partner in 1984 as Crest Computer Supply was bought in '93 by Notre Dame and Wharton School graduate Jim Martin. Among Martin's first moves was to change the name. "We've got this guy named Sayers, he's pretty popular," says Martin. "Why are we named after a toothpaste?" Sayers's ownership enables the company to get minority-targeted business, and his name attracts those who remember all those runs. Yet he bristles at any attempt to describe him as just a legend on the business card. "This is my company," says Sayers. "There was a time when people would say, 'That ain't no black company. He's got a white man running that company.' No. This. Is. My. Company."
He alternately guards and dismisses his own legacy. "Some people ask if I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, playing only 68 games," says Sayers. "You're damn right I do. I did some pretty good things in those 68 games. Maybe nobody else ever did things like that." Yet, in the next instant: "When I walked off the field in St. Louis after that exhibition game, I knew it was over. And I never looked back."
On Sundays in the fall he will watch the NFL and hear his name invoked. If you offer him a vote on the subject, he'll says the closest thing to another Gale Sayers was Barry Sanders. "He used the whole field, just like me," says Sayers. (Others disagree. LeBeau says, "Anatomically, Barry was completely different from Gale. He was compact, Gale was long."). Reggie Bush? Devin Hester? No and no. At least for now.
Sayers has watched film of that first injury, the Alexander tackle, just once, shortly after it occurred. "At this point I probably could see it again," he says. "But it would just bring back a lot of memories. Like if I hadn't gotten hurt, what could I have done?"
His words carry a whiff of contradiction. Maybe every great athlete keeps a piece of the past inside him, and a guy like Sayers, so brilliant, yet unjustly finished at 28, holds that piece even closer to his soul, keeping it tucked away where others can't see it. Is that what happens? Sayers smacks his lunch companion squarely between the shoulder blades. "Nah," he says, almost casually. "Not really."
He walks across the parking lot, slim and graceful while limping ever so slightly to favor his new, artificial knee. Or maybe the old, battered one. It's hard to tell.
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