Failure to honor Sayers feels like a sucker punch

On Aug. 18, 1989, the Chicago Bears made a transaction that broke my heart.

That afternoon, I went to freshman football practice to learn from some teammates that my favorite team traded my hero, Jim McMahon, to the San Diego Chargers for a conditional draft pick.

I was crushed. I honestly felt like somebody in my family had just died. As I went through the motions of practicing-opening calisthenics at the old Civic Center field, I felt like crying.

McMahon meant so much to me, and it went way beyond watching him on Sundays. I loved the way he stood up to authority. I loved that he did not care what anybody thought about him.

Reading his autobiography in junior high school literally helped me survive the two toughest years in my life.

Walter Payton was my favorite player. He was No. 1A. The Punky QB was No. 1B. Depending on when you ask me, that order might be reversed.

The reason those two players still mean so much to me, though, goes back to a player I was not old enough to watch play. His name was Gale Sayers.

I fell in love with the Chicago Bears and their best player, Payton, in the 1970s because my dad was a Bears fan, and I wanted to be like him. My dad introduced me to my lifelong obsession for two reasons, Sayers and Dick Butkus. For my dad, Sayers was 1A, and Butkus was 1B.

Any Bears fan outside Chicago who is over the age of 55 is a fan because of Sayers and Butkus. They are, without question, two of the top 5 Bears of all time. So many say Sayers is No. 1, and they might be right.

The Bears owe so much to those two players. They are the reason I have spent thousands of dollars in Bears merchandise in my lifetime. They are the reason my Sundays revolve around the orange, navy and white.

On Sept. 23, the great Gale Sayers passed away at the age of 77, and the organization has been shamefully silent.

Sure, the team’s official Twitter account changed its profile picture to a No. 40 for Sayers for a week or two, and the team issued a statement of sympathy to the Sayers family. But that is pretty much all we have heard about the legendary Kansas Comet.

The Bears have played 10 games since Sayers death, and the team has made no mention of him on the field at all.

This is the same team that has had “GSH” on its jerseys since 1984 to honor George Halas. They could not put a patch on their uniforms to honor Sayers?

Halas himself had this to say about Sayers during Sayers’ Hall of Fame induction in 1977:

“If you wish to see perfection as a running back, you had best get a hold of a film of Gale Sayers. He was poetry in motion. His like will never be seen again.”

Sayers was a first-ballot Hall of Famer even though injury cut his career to just 68 games. He ran for 4,956 yards and 39 touchdowns in those 68 games. He also scored nine touchdowns receiving and six on returns.

As a boy, I knew all about his sixth-touchdown game in the mud against the San Francisco 49ers. I read about it in a book that was in my elementary school library.

I watched NFL films video of Sayers so many times that I had the commentary memorized.

Markus Paul, himself a former Chicago Bear, was an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys the past three seasons. He tragically died at the age of 54 the day before Thanksgiving.

The next day, the Cowboys played with Paul’s initials on the helmet of each player, as they should have.

Paul was the strength and conditioning coach of the Cowboys, and the team felt it had to honor him. Gale Sayers had two movies made about him, and the Bears must have figured that was enough.

The McCaskey family, which unfortunately owns the Bears, reckoned that Sayers did not deserve a black arm band or a helmet sticker. I guess some paint on the field would be over kill in the mind of Bears management.

This is not surprising since the Bears did not retire the numbers of Sayers and Butkus until 1994, more than two decades after the two legends limped into the sunset.

In the 10 weeks since Sayers’ death, I have been pestering the team on Twitter because it has not honored one of their all-time great players. I have hounded the writers who cover their games with tweet mentions and emails.

I have responded to tweets calling for questions about the Bears for “mailbag” columns.

To date, not a single writer has gotten back to me. In the weeks since Sayers’ passing, I have not seen one writer take the Bears to task for their short comings in honoring the legend.

That has once again proved my longstanding theory that the media covering the team is just as inept as the team’s management. Inept is putting it nicely, too.

The McCaskey family inherited the NFL’s flagship franchise and turned it into a laughing stock. They have done nothing but bring shame to their fans.

Virginia McCaskey is the 97-year-old daughter of Halas. You will see her on television, watching the Bears games from the owner’s booth. She sits there and stoically observes the franchise she let her sons, first Michael and now George, steer directly into the ice berg.

Whether it was the trading of McMahon or the firing of coach Mike Ditka a few years later, the McCaskey Bears have delivered Bears fans decades of misery, heartache and embarrassment.

They gave us Dave Wannstedt, Craig Krenzel and Mike Glennon. They hired Phil Emery and Marc Trestman.

By my count, the Bears have started 33 guys at quarterback since 1992, the year Brett Favre took over in Green Bay. The Packers started six in that same time, and all but a handful of those games were started by Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Granted, it took some luck for the Packers to get back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks. It took a whole lot of incompetence and boobery for the Bears to not come close to finding one.

The one thing they can never take away from Bears fans, however, is our memories. So many of us are stuck in 1985 when the Bears shuffled to the Super Bowl.

We can still close our eyes and see Payton high step to the end zone. We can still see McMahon’s headbutts and his headband mocking the commissioner. We can still see the Fridge jumping through a pile of Patriots.

We can also still see Sayers’ poetry in motion, even on a muddy Wrigley Field.

The Bears sitting on their hands when it came time to honor that poetry is like spitting in the face of its fanbase that appreciates history more than most. It is a sucker punch to the soul of those of us who have believed there really was something sacred about the Monsters of the Midway because of guys like Gale Sayers.

Even though Sayers played his last game more than two years before I was born, seeing the Bears fail to honor the Kansas Comet week after week is like continually going back to August of 1989 and seeing them trade my hero.

I feel like crying.

— Bill Foley, who cries often, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74

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