Bears' success surprises Gale Sayers

Updated: January 21, 2011, 10:23 AM ET
ESPNChicago.com

It would be fair to say Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers didn't have high expectations for the Chicago Bears, judging by the criticism Sayers delivered during the summer that infuriated linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Sayers I told it like it was. That's the way I felt about this team, that it would be very, very tough for them to get into the Super Bowl, and they're almost there. I have nothing against Brian Urlacher. I have nothing against the Bears.

-- Gale Sayers

Sayers admitted Thursday that he's surprised by the Bears' success. Chicago won the NFC North and will host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

"I'm very surprised," Sayers said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "[Quarterback Jay] Cutler wasn't really that good early in the season."

During a booster banquet May 4 for Boys Town in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., Sayers questioned several players, as well as coach Lovie Smith.

"Cutler hasn't done the job," Sayers said at the time. "Urlacher, I don't know how good he's going to be coming back [from surgery]. They need a couple wide receivers, a couple defensive backs. They haven't done a good job.

"If Lovie doesn't do it this year, I think he's gone. He had a good team the [2006] Super Bowl year. Nothing came together for him the last couple years."

It came together for the Bears this season. Cutler did struggle early, due in large part to a faltering offensive line that has yielded the most sacks in the NFL, including a league-record nine in the first half against the New York Giants, during which Cutler suffered a concussion.

The Bears' offense didn't find its rhythm until committing to a more balanced attack that featured a stronger running game. The change occurred during the bye in Week 8 and led to a five-game winning streak.

"They had a great season," Sayers said. "I'm all for Brian Urlacher, he had a great season. The whole team had a great season.

"I told it like it was. That's the way I felt about this team, that it would be very, very tough for them to get into the Super Bowl, and they're almost there. I have nothing against Brian Urlacher. I have nothing against the Bears. I told it like it was, that I felt they had a tough way to go to reach the Super Bowl."

Sayers said the Bears did catch one break.

"I think what happened is the Bears are the team that has the fewest injuries," Sayers said. "Lot of injuries in [the NFL]. The Bears got healthy early and went on in and had a great season."

Sayers, who played from 1965 to 1971 -- exclusively with the Bears -- was told his former teammate Dick Butkus said Urlacher is the Bears' greatest linebacker of all time. Before the question was finished, Sayers was disagreeing.

"Never. Never," Sayers said. "Don't even try that. Dick Butkus is blowing smoke. He knows. He knows who's the best, and that's Dick Butkus."

In fact, Sayers lists Urlacher behind Mike Singletary.

"Singletary was a great, great football player," Sayers said. "Brian is a great, great football player also, but he did not have the killer instinct Singletary had.

"Singletary was second to Dick Butkus, simple as that. I'm not going to say anything else."