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Touchdown Overseas

Chicagoan and NFL legend Gale Sayers talks about his recent whirlwind USO tour of military bases around the world, the war in Iraq, and the importance of teamwork.

Photo: Jerome De Perlinghi

Gale Sayers
In 2003, the Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers was staying at a hotel in San Francisco when he bumped into Air Force general Richard Myers, then the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The men, who knew of each other but had never met, might have bonded over their college days at rival Kansas universities and left it at that. But the soon-to-retire chairman took the opportunity to invite Sayers to join his USO tour, visiting troops stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and other points overseas. Sayers, the youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is today head of a computer products and services company in Mount Prospect. He shared with Chicago his impressions of the August trip.

Q: What was your itinerary?
A: We went out August the 14th and were there for ten days in various countries. We started in Germany and went to Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq, Djibouti, which is in the Horn of Africa, and we visited some troops on the USS Nimitz battleship, and we were in Iran, Korea, Afghanistan, Japan, Hawaii, and Alaska.

Q: In ten days?
A: About one city per day and, in a couple places we went, we visited three bases and we would get back on a plane and go.

Q: Who else was with you?
A: Myself, General Myers and his staff, and they had two comedians-one was Colin Quinn [the other was Jeffrey Ross]. I never quite heard [Quinn’s] name before. We did 18 shows and he had a style about him, and I laughed just as hard on the 18th show as I did on the first. And they were both crude, real crude.

Q: Did you see anything that you didn’t expect?
A: I was really surprised to see how many young people were over there. Twenty-three is young to me. Real young. You look in a crowd and they looked like little babies out there. . . . You know, the one thing I want to convey is that, those soldiers, they want to be there. I didn’t hear any negative talk about it.

Q: People often say, “I support the troops; I don’t support the war.” Did that come into play for you?
A: No, it did not. My wishes and my prayers are that they get the thing over as soon as they can get it over with and have all those kids come back home safely. It’s not going to be a short war. Is it going to be over a year from now? I don’t think so. Will it be over three years from now? Maybe. My only negative comment about the Bush Administration-and “negative” is probably too strong a word-is that they should have spent more time getting the United Nations involved in this. Bush said, “We’re going,” and that’s too bad. If those nations had gotten involved, it may have been over a little sooner.

Q: What type of presentation did you give?
A: I talked about teamwork. When I was a player, every yard I had, somebody had to do something-they’d fall down in front of me or make a block and I talked about [Philadelphia wide receiver] Terrell Owens. He thinks he’s the whole team. And why couldn’t Shaq and Kobe compete together [when they played for the L.A. Lakers]? They could have won two or three more titles. That’s not team; that’s ego. In sports, you’re competing for pride and money. In the military, you’re talking about lives. You have to work together as a team and they know that. I talked about my faith. Many African American young men were brought up in the church and they somehow got away from the church. When I was coming up, if my mama didn’t take me to church, my grandmamma took me to church, and we somehow have kind of gotten away from that. And a lot of people came up to me afterward and said, “Gale, I’m glad you talked about the church, I’m glad you talked about your faith, because they need that.”

Q: Do you have any relatives in the military?
A: My son went over to Somalia and spent 13 years in the military. He was in the Marines.

Q: Will you go back?
A: I’m going back. I thought I’d go back around Christmas
time. But I don’t know if that’s enough time to put a trip together. But I do want to go back, I really do.

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