ELKHART — He "comes and goes."

Such words easily could've been uttered by bewildered NFL defenders as they described Gale Sayers whisking or juking past them some 50 years ago on his way to becoming the youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But in this case they're the words Ardie Sayers repeatedly chose Thursday night as she described how her 74-year-old husband is doing in his battle with dementia.

Answering a question at one point about Gale Sayers' ability to speak, answering another about Sayers' ability to understand what's going on around him, and answering another about Sayers' memory, Ardie Sayers replied each time that "it comes and goes."

"There are good days and bad days, but we just take it one day at a time," Ardie said. "He's doing pretty well."

He was doing so Friday, according to a close friend, upon heading back to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, for this weekend's enshrinement activities.

Ardie Sayers revealed to the Kansas City Star in March that Gale was diagnosed with dementia four years ago. She has said other signs point to as far back as 2009.

In a brief phone interview Thursday — as she and her husband of 44 years were preparing to leave Elkhart with friends for Canton — Ardie said she feels that Gale is about the same as she detailed in March.

Other than cognitive issues, he is "very healthy."

Gale Sayers, who played all of his brief career with the Chicago Bears, has not given interviews or made speeches the last few years, his wife said.

"I can't say he understands totally," Ardie Sayers said Thursday of whether Sayers comprehends his condition. "I know there are times he'd like to be able to do some things he used to do, and he might not fully understand why not, but he's doing the best he can. We're doing the best we can.

"You just take it one day at a time and pray to God."

Gale and Ardie Sayers continue to live in nearby Wakarusa, where they built a summer home about 27 years ago and later made it their main residence.

"Yes, a part of this has to be on football," Ardie said in March of what a doctor at the Mayo Clinic told her when Gale was diagnosed.

"It wasn't so much getting hit in the head," Ardie said then. "It's just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force they play the game in."

Nevertheless, Ardie insisted Thursday that she bears no resentment toward football, and added that one of the things she is confident about is that her husband feels the same way.

"Gale loved the game of football. I'm not pointing a finger at or blaming anyone for this," Ardie said of his dementia. "Whenever somebody talks to him or asks him a question about football, he smiles. It's what he enjoys."

Ardie said she and her husband "haven't even talked about" whether they will donate his brain upon his death to check for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease being linked to football.

On Thursday, she was more eager to talk about this year's particularly significant trip to the Hall of Fame's enshrinement weekend festivities.

As part of the activities, with Gale Sayers looking on Friday, grandson Brandon Bullard presented to the Hall the shoes that Sayers wore in his record-tying six-touchdown game as a rookie in 1965 against San Francisco. Sayers also donated the ball he carried on that sixth score.

"We first talked about it several years ago," Ardie said of donating the items. "Last year when we talked about it, he said, 'I think I'd like that.' I said I'd have to call the Hall and see if they want them. When I called, they were elated.

"It's not like we can cut them up and divide them among the kids," Ardie added with a laugh. She and Gale have seven children in their blended family.

The timing of the donation is special, Ardie noted. It comes on the 40th anniversary of Sayers' induction into the Hall, and 40 is the number he wore while dicing up defenses for the Bears.

Sayers mingled Friday with his fellow Hall of Famers, according to longtime friend John Karagiannis, listened to stories and smiled for several photos.

"He lit up many times when he would see some of the old-timers," Karagiannis said. "Everyone was excited to see him. ... I lost count of the number of Hall of Famers who asked to take a picture with him. Paul Hornung told him he was the best ever."

Due to major knee injuries, Sayers played in just 68 games over his seven seasons in the NFL from 1965 to 1971, but rushed for 4,956 yards, a 5.0 average and 39 touchdowns. He added another nine TDs receiving and eight more on special teams.

He was inducted into the Hall at age 34.

Karagiannis, who is an Elkhart doctor, drove Gale, Ardie, members of his own family and another friend to Canton for the weekend.

He said Gale Sayers was "having a great time." Karagiannis added that his 6-year-old son, Paul, and Gale have become close over the last couple years.

Ardie Sayers said Thursday that her husband did seem to be looking forward to the weekend. The couple has attended enshrinement festivities virtually every year since his induction, missing a couple years recently due to a family event on one occasion and her hip surgery on the other.

"I'm sure that it will make him feel good when people talk to him about football," Ardie said.

Beyond the weekend, she also remains hopeful.

"You never know," Ardie Sayers said. "We're praying that the research programs that are out there can find out what causes this and will be able to help not just Gale, but many others."

(9) comments

Revjimjones

I have nothing but apathy for professional athletes and their injuries.They are well compensated and aware of the dangers of their games.Would I do it?Heck yes for that cabbage,AND act like I didn't know it would take a toll on my body.

strtdude

Betterme, Are you that desperate to find a way to prove me wrong? High school football in every sense of the definition could be considered the minor to the minor leagues of college football. We are aware that all pros played Friday night high school football. I really didn't think It even needed to be stated. And still don't. Here let me help you with this There are one million high school football players each year in the USA , that's one million, the NFL drafts about 300 players each year. That is still right at - a million high school kids - banging their fragile brains around inside of their skull regardless of helmet technology. Glad I could be of some assistance.

strtdude

Maybe we could drill a small hole in the skull of high school football players and have a pre game injection of a gel that would have a more protective viscosity than natures cerebrospinal fluid. Then have a post game vacuuming to remove the gel. Wait, note to self. Be careful with the sarcasm, don't give those that worship sports any ideas.

Mustang

I realize that this game is a thread that is woven into the fabric of America, but it has to become a part of history, and eliminated from the present and future. It's really okay to learn stuff and conclude that it should no longer be. Football; The asbestos of the millennium.

fire111

I will not argue continued concussive injuries can cause problems. But I can name various ladies that have the same malady and never competed in contact sports.

strtdude

And in the most gentlemanly way I can ask , This response fire111, pray tell, means what? Are you saying that ladies that have never participated in contact sports have somehow gotten repetitive brain trauma from their every day living experiences? Or were they war veterans? CTE is what the players are suffering from, it is repetitive brain trauma. Try to focus.

Folks, be brave and look at the desire to avoid / protect the sanctity of football. I dare you to bring up CTE / chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the water cooler. Stop putting your kids in this meat grinder.

biker1

Living proof that bad things too often happen to good people. How sad.

strtdude

But let's keep the high school kids, that will never see a paycheck, for smashing their brains about, playing for old glory / high school. Pro ball players get huge sums of money to bang their brains repeatedly. Folks, the human brain inside of the most protective of helmets still gets smashed to and fro inside the skull. We probably need to start taking that more serious. I say parents are influenced / tricked to turn a blind eye to the realities of what the human brain goes through during a football game on Friday night. As more info is getting out it will soon become disgusting to ignore the facts. Or at the very least, the trauma that the brain experiences during a football game on a Friday night will become like the climate change debate. Hey, it's better than nothing .

bettermethanyou

It should be obvious to someone with the stellar brain that you claim to have is that all of those guys who get paid to smash their brains around on Sunday's all started by playing on Friday's. As Bugs says "What an ultramaroon."

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