Of all the Chicago Bears greats over the last century, Willie “The Wisp” Galimore is one of the least known. But don’t be mistaken. Galimore played a prominent role and will forever be known by Bears super fans as the electric runner that led the Bears to eventually drafting Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. Sadly, Galimore will also be remembered as the superstar who died too young in a tragic car accident along with teammate John “Bo” Farrington at Bears training camp in Rensselaer, Indiana.
#28 Willie Galimore played just 7 seasons with the Bears from 1957-1963. If you just look at his statistics, you might not think that highly of him. In his 7 year career, Willie totaled 4186 total yards rushing and receiving with 36 touchdowns. But if you watched him play, if you’ve seen his highlight reel, that’s when you realize what a diamond in the rough he truly was. What you see may remind you of Barry Sanders, Lenny Moore, Billy Sims, Marshall Faulk, even Walter Payton. His best NFL comparison is probably #40 Gale Sayers. In plenty of their highlights, one could switch their jerseys from #28 to #40 and back again and not know who was really wearing the uniform. They were both electric, galloping and running, stopping on dimes, creating. What they had was magic. Willie was the first. He came to the Bears like a bolt of lightning, and was taken from this world just as quickly.
Tragically, Galimore was involved in an automobile accident while driving back to the dorms at Bears training camp along with teammate TE “Bo” Farrington in Rensselaer, IN on July 27, 1964. The defending NFL Champion Bears never recovered that season and were unable to defend their Championship in ’64. A big reason was the lack of a game-breaking RB. A bigger reason was probably the heartbreak that teammates felt all season, every time they looked at each other and saw the commemorative black armband worn on their jerseys. So in ’64 the Bears turned into a passing team as WR Johnny Morris set a league record with 93 receptions. TE Mike Ditka also had 75 catches, which turned out to be his career high for one season. But the ’64 Bears finished 5-9.
The next Spring of 1965, Papa Bear Halas drafted Dick Butkus (3rd overall) and Gale Sayers (4th overall) in what has become known as one of the greatest drafts ever by a single team. As legend goes, Halas had to replace Galimore with a new thoroughbred and look what happened……not only did Sayers duplicate what Galimore accomplished but he went on to a short-lived but ultimately Hall of Fame career. Sayers was Galimore reincarnated. One guy goes and another arrives. From “The Wisp” to “The Kansas Comet”.
Their running styles aside, both Willie Galimore and Gale Sayers were dogged by injuries. In those days of rudimentary training tactics (“rub some dirt on it and tape it up”) and old-fashioned knee surgeries (“we’ll just remove the guy’s knee cartilage, yeah….that’ll work”), those injuries typically turned once great players that “had it all” into “has beens”. Nonetheless, Galimore laid the groundwork for Sayers and one could argue that he was just as much a Hall of Famer as Sayers, he just didn’t have the numbers to prove it.
Many Bears fans have forgotten, but the “Real” Bears fans do indeed remember Willie “The Wisp” Galimore. Do yourself a favor and watch his highlight tape. It’ll hit you…..like a bolt of lightning.