'He was a great man': Vikings coach Mike Zimmer reflects on Gale Sayers

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer before an NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs on November 3, 2019 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. ((Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

Mike Zimmer opened his Wednesday news conference acknowledging Hall-of-Fame running back Gale Sayers, who died Wednesday at 77 after a battle with dementia.

“Sorry to hear about the passing of Gale Sayers today. He was a great man and I’m sure everyone is going to miss him,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer told a story about the first time he met Sayers. He was 11 years old and got to play pool with him. He doesn’t remember who won the game, but he did get an autographed football out of the meeting.

Sayers tied an NFL record with six touchdowns in a game, and set another with 22 touchdowns in his rookie season. He had 14 rushing, six receiving, one punt and one kickoff. Sayers was an All-Pro in five of his first seven seasons, starting in 1965.

Sayers was drafted No. 4 overall by the Chicago Bears in 1965. He’s considered one of the best all-purpose running backs to ever play in the NFL and one of the best open-field runners in the game.

Zimmer remembers watching him as a kid.

“He was so elusive and the way he could run the football, the way he could hit the seams and accelerate through. It just seemed like he was always making big plays,” Zimmer said.