Monday, July 16, 2012

Reading Huddle: I Am Third

Those of you who are loyal Naptime Huddle readers may have noticed that I have not yet ran posts profiling the“Stars and Legends” at the running back position.  Well, fear not--you can expect to see those posts during the 2012 season (which starts in 51 days on September 5th). 

I haven’t decided who will be included among the running back Legends yet, but Chicago Bears icon and Hall of Famer Gale Sayers will certainly be high on the list of candidates.  Like many players of his generation (and generations before), Gale had several roles on the Bears.  He was first and foremost their running back, but he also ran back kickoffs and punts (while occasionally throwing passes)—and he made an immediate impact as a rookie in each of these facets of the game.  During his 1965 rookie season, Sayers scored a total of 22 touchdowns:  14 rushing, six receiving and two on kick returns), setting a number of league and team records along the way.  These include a tie in the record for most touchdowns in a single game, as Gale collected six in the Bears’ 61-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.  He earned Rookie of the Year honors by unanimous vote.

Sayers continued to post impressive stats in the ensuing seasons, despite the fact that he became the focus of opposing defenses after his record-shattering rookie year.  Through the first nine games of the 1968 season, Gale was leading the league in rushing when, in a game against the 49ers, he tore several ligaments in his right knee when he was (cleanly) tackled by defensive back Kermit Alexander. 

Alexander (39) tried to help Sayers' teammates carry him off the field after the tackle

Was he able to come back after such a devastating injury?  How would he fare if he did come back?  You’ll learn the answers to these and many other questions about Gale Sayers when you read our next “Reading Huddle” selection, I Am Third.  In his autobiography, Sayers takes you through the very difficult period when he was recovering from his injury; he then paints a vivid picture of his upbringing and the athletic successes that gave him the opportunity to make history for the Bears.  And you'll learn the meaning of the book's title.  Raised in the area of Omaha, Nebraska he affectionately calls “the Toe”, Sayers gives you the full flavor of what it was like to grow up as a poor, but gifted black athlete living in a troubled home environment in a racially turbulent time.

You might also remember hearing about Gale Sayers in “Take 2” of my series “Screen Plays: Classic Football Movies.”  I Am Third was the book that inspired the 1971 TV film classic Brian’s Song.  The only movie that men will freely admit to crying over, Brian’s Song chronicles the tragic death of Brian Piccolo (above), the Bears tailback who passed away from an aggressive cancer during the 1969 season.  Sayers and Piccolo (or “Pick” as Gale called him) became close friends when they were assigned as roommates during Bears training camp.  Defying the racial boundaries of the time, they built an unwavering friendship that helped them both deal with Brian’s terrifying disease.

I hope you enjoy I Am Third.   Since this is a relatively short book and quick read, there will be a slightly shorter period before I post discussion questions.  Look for those questions during the week of August 6th.  (Check the left sidebar for a link to buy the book on

In addition to your longer reading assignment, take a few minutes to read Sayers’ Hall of Fame enshrinement speech and the speech given by former Bears coach (and owner) George Halas as he introduced Sayers at the enshrinement ceremony:

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