To say George Saimes was made to play football would be a monumental understatement. Born in the birthplace of the NFL (Canton, Ohio), Saimes was a bright young boy who knew what he wanted. Falling in love with the game early in his life, he followed the conventional path to the pros through college. After a massively successful era at Michigan State University, where he finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting, he declared for the AFL and NFL drafts in 1963.
An AFL Legend Is Born
Coming out of Michigan State, his pro dreams were made reality as he was selected in the sixth round of 1963 AFL (Kansas City, 48th overall) and NFL (L.A. Rams, 71st overall) Drafts. Shockingly, he snubbed them both for an unknown reason, and signed with the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo was happy to have him, as they were in dire need of help at the safety position. He was an immediate hit, hauling in four interceptions as a rookie, and quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s most prominent tacklers. Though he did catch his fair share, Saimes was known for dropping a lot of the easy ones, and his teammates sure pointed them out.
“We used to kid him about it and say, ‘If you had great hands and great eyesight, you could’ve had at least 50 or 60 interceptions’ “– Booker Edgerson, Bills Defensive back (1962-69)
It didn’t end up mattering very much, as George found ways to make plays in every situation anyway. A key part of the Buffalo Bills’ 1964 and 1965 AFL Championship defenses, he earned a whole mess of accolades. He was a five-time AFL All-Star from 1964 to 1968, making three All-AFL First Teams and two Second Teams. At the AFL’s end, when it merged with the NFL to become the league we know today, he was named to the AFL All-Time team.
“[Saimes was] the finest open-field tackler in the league”.– Larry Felser, Pro Football Writers Association
Career After Buffalo
After the merger, he went to the Denver Broncos, where he joined two fellow Wall of Famers: his former coach Lou Saban and his teammate for nearly his entire career (spanning two teams and eight seasons) Booker Edgerson.
“We know there wasn’t a better safety before him, and I don’t think there’s been any since, especially in terms of tackling and the intelligence of playing in the secondary with the receivers. I think that there should’ve been some consideration for him going into the Hall of Fame.”Booker Edgerson, on playing with Saimes
Known for his intelligence, Saimes was highly-sought after as a scout once his playing days were over, and was swiftly recruited by the Blesto V Combine. He would work with Tampa Bay, Washington, and Houston over the course of his post-playing career, and was held in great regard. His 15 years with Washington are most notable, as a lot of his work there led to the talented teams they put forth, including two Super Bowl-winning teams in 1987 and 1991.
After a lengthy and proud career, Saimes died in the place of his birth in 2013, after a battle with leukemia. He was 71 years old. Before his passing, he was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame in 2000. His name is frequently discussed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee as a historic selection. Remembered by his family as a loving father and husband, George was known for his warmth and kindness as much as his play on the field.
If you’re enjoying the series, check out the rest of the Wall of Fame here!
|O.J. Simpson (1980)||Jack Kemp (1984)||Patrick J. McGroder (1985)||Tom Sestak (1987)||Billy Shaw (1988)|
|Ralph C. Wilson Jr. (1989)||The 12th Man (1992)||Elbert Dubenion (1993)||Mike Stratton (1994)||Joe Ferguson (1995)|
|Marv Levy (1996)||Joe DeLamielleure (1997)||Robert James (1998)||Edward Abramoski (1999)||Bob Kalsu (2000)|
|George Saimes (2000)||Jim Kelly (2001)||Fred Smerlas (2001)||Kent Hull (2002)||Darryl Talley (2003)|
|Jim Ritcher (2004)||Thurman Thomas (2005)||Andre Reed (2006)||Steve Tasker (2007)||Bruce Smith (2008)|
|Booker Edgerson (2010)||Phil Hansen (2011)||Bill Polian (2012)||Van Miller (2014)||Lou Saban (2015)|
|Cookie Gilchrist (2017)||Reserved For|
The Golden Era