• Kurt Crowley

Why Is Gale Sayers Tribute Patch AWOL?


It has nearly been a month and still the Chicago Bears organization not added a memorial patch to mark the passing of Gale Sayers.


Just asking for myself.


The Bears social media pages currently have an avatar to mark the league’s annual October Crucial Catch campaign, but nothing to mark the life of one of the most electrifying athletes of any generation.


The Bears do have a PR account on Twitter, I could ask there, but sure many others have.


The reason could be as simple as Sayers personal directive, that would be the most logical.


For comparison, Walter Payton died after a lengthy illness on November 1, 1999, a Monday. A memorial service was held at Soldier Field the following weekend (not possible in the 2020 pandemic year) and a memorial patch worn for the team’s game in Green Bay the next day.

As seen from the game’s decisive play, a blocked field goal, the patch was simplified, just the ’34’ embroidered within a football. Sweet, simple and not overdone - although adding the word ‘Sweetness’ somewhere would had been a nice touch.


That is believed to have been the last time the Bears sported such a uniform patch.


One would think Chicago Bears marketing would have some tributes at the ready. Sayers was age 77, Dick Butkus is likewise 77, Mike Ditka turns 81 on October 18.


Social media has come up with numerous concepts for a Sayers patch. I picture a gliding Sayers silhouette (think ‘Jerry West’ NBA logo) with a ’40’ in Bears font. A Butkus memorial would likewise appear in his menacing middle linebacker stance. Multiple ideas for a Ditka tribute include his coaching glare, ‘Da Coach’ moniker, etc.


Soldier Field statues for both Halas and Payton were added before the 2019 season opener, Halas’s GSH initials have been part of the Bears uniform since 1983. Sayers No. 48 has been honored by the University of Kansas in recent games and the Kansas Comet also had a statue recently unveiled at the university.


The Bears have retired 13 numbers, most recently Sayers and Butkus together on October 31, 1994, a weird scene on a horrible weather night more than 20 years after their retirements. Retired numbers also include running backs Willie Gallimore (28) and Brian Piccolo (41), both died as active players.

Butkus’s No. 51 was awkwardly worn for years by linebacker Jim Morrissey. More compelling, the team wore No. 50 samurai patches for Mike Singletary’s final regular season game in 1992. Singletary’s number remains in circulation, currently worn by veteran linebacker Barkevious Mingo.


It is hard to retire some numbers given 80-player preseason rosters along with the league’s dictated number designations by position. The Bears and some other organizations also retired numbers early on in their existence.


The inconsistencies are not limited to the Chicago Bears franchise. For the most post, the Green Bay Packers have refrained from uniform or helmet tributes, save for Reggie White’s unexpected 2004 death.

The past two years the Packers have done small helmet decal tributes for Bart Starr (15/2019) and Willie Davis (87/2020). But other Lombardi-era Packers greats have recently passed - a list that includes Jim Taylor (2018), Forrest Gregg (2019) and Willie Wood (2020).


Taylor remains arguably Green Bay’s greatest running back, Gregg was praised by Vince Lombardi as the best player he ever coached, and Gregg himself coached the Packers, two other NFL franchises, two Canadian football teams and Southern Methodist University. Wood’s legacy also includes being the first Black quarterback in the Pac-8 Conference who also served as an assistant under Forrest Gregg and became the first Black coach in Canadian football.


Hard to put any dividing line between those five Green Bay greats, they are all worthy.

Conversely, Arizona Cardinals tend to overdo things. In 2019 they wore an oversized bowtie jersey patch in honor of owner Bill Bidwell. This year the team honored the passing of legendary safety Larry Wilson, who spent 43 years with the organization overall, with a No. 8 patch.


All of this is at the discretion of the respective organizations - but Gale Sayers legacy has to be honored. Perhaps a statue of Sayers and Piccolo running side by side.


 

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