RENO, Nev. -- Celebrating his 65th birthday on Friday, nearly 37 years after he retired from the NFL, Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers still remembers the defender who hit him the hardest.
"He came to play. He never took a day off. And it made me a better football player because I knew he was coming to get me. I had to be on alert all the time," he said.
"Deacon Jones, was a great football player. Ray Nitschke, all those people hit very, very hard. But in practice -- Dick Butkus."
Sayers, who was born in Wichita, Kan., in 1943, but grew up in Omaha, Neb., said he still works out four days a week and doesn't feel 65.
"I feel 45," he told KKOH Radio in Reno on Friday.
Sayers was in Reno to help raise money at a celebrity golf tournament for a Reno woman, Evelyn Mount, who collects food year-round to help provide Thanksgiving dinners for the needy. He said he had three role models in his life, the most important being his father.
"My older brother was my second role model and (longtime Bears coach) George Halas was my third role model. All those people had a great influence on my life," he said.
"But I thought if I was going to better myself as a football player, I had to play the best. And I felt at that time, the best football was being played in the National Football League," he said.
"Going to Chicago and meeting George Halas was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was a great, great individual and a great mentor of mine, great motivator, a super individual."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press