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Sayers says

The big sports-radio topic of the day is the hubbub that erupted between Hall of Fame RB Gale Sayers and current Bears LB Brian Urlacher. At a speaking event, Sayers was asked a question about the Bears’ prospects for 2010, and his review was honest and critical. Urlacher bristled at the criticism, questioning the Hall of Famer’s credentials because he never won a playoff game.

(If you want to go beyond the basics, many words have been said about this media-blown controversy. Check out the Chicago newspaper sites and the writing/audio on ESPN’s Chicago site to see how vast the punditry has become.)

When I heard what Sayers said, it surprised me – but not because of why you think. It surprised me because my personal experience is that Sayers honestly isn’t that plugged into today’s NFL.

This impression may not be fair, because it’s a first impression. But back in my days at Pro Football Weekly, I met Sayers, and he ended up asking me more questions about the NFL of the current day than I could ask him about the league in his day. It happened at the ESPN Zone in Chicago soon after it opened in the late 1990s. I was invited, along with a colleague, to sit on a football expert panel discussion at the restaurant that was taking place before a Monday Night Football game. It was the restaurant’s way of trying to establish itself as a great place to watch MNF, and they went all out – inviting two of us from PFW, four radio hosts from ESPN 1000 in Chicago, and long-time Chicago sportscaster Mark Giangreco. But the big attraction to the panel was Gale Sayers. We all introduced ourselves just before the discussion began, and I got the chance to introduce myself and shake Sayers’ hand. This was a great deal, even though I didn’t grow up a Bears fan.

When the six “experts” went up front for the panel discussion, Sayers was put in the middle, and somehow I ended up right next to him. And as the discussion began, one thing became clear – Sayers didn’t really keep up with the NFL. Sure, he had had experiences that none of the rest of us on the panel had. He was the only Hall of Famer there. But Sayers ended up asking me more questions about what I thought of today’s NFL than he did commenting on it.

It was strange, sitting there answering questions from a Pro Football Hall of Famer about pro football. And that’s why I was so surprised that Sayers had such a strong opinion about today’s Bears – because he seemed a lot more plugged into the NFL than he was when I sat beside him for an hour a decade ago.

Maybe Sayers has started watching more NFL, or at least more Bears games. Maybe I should pay more attention to what Sayers said.

But even if he hasn’t, he’s probably right about the Bears – Hall of Famer or not.

One tangent as we end – during that panel discussion, I was able to get off a one-liner that I’m still proud of. The Dallas Cowboys, while they were starting to drift downward from their mid-90s peak, were still a preeminent team, and so they were the subject of one of the questions. This was also an era where the Cowboys were known, much like the Bengals in recent years, as a team that had its share of legal problems and more.

One of the radio hosts was a Cowboys fan, and as he talked about his team his voice raised, and he concluded a grandiose statement by talking about the hole in the Texas Stadium roof, and how “Someone’s looking down from above on the Dallas Cowboys!”

My response was this – “Yeah, it’s called a parole officer.”

Maybe you think it’s funny. Maybe you had to be there. But dangit, I’m still proud I came up with that on the spot.

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