George Sauer, 69; star became disillusioned with football

“Football is an ambiguous sport, depending both on grace and violence. It both glorifies and destroys bodies,” George Sauer said in a 1983 New York Times article.
Associated Press/file 1969
“Football is an ambiguous sport, depending both on grace and violence. It both glorifies and destroys bodies,” George Sauer said in a 1983 New York Times article.

NEW YORK — George Sauer, who as a wide receiver for the Jets played a pivotal role in the team’s stunning victory in Super Bowl III, and who later quit professional football because he considered it dehumanizing, died May 7 in Westerville, Ohio. He was 69.

His sister, Dana Keifer, confirmed the death, saying the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.

The Baltimore Colts were three-touchdown favorites when they faced the Jets in the 1969 Super Bowl, in Miami, but they lost, 16-7, in one of the great upsets in pro football history.


A big factor was the stellar play of Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who had brashly guaranteed a victory. Mr. Sauer was another.

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The Jets were not only underdogs to a powerful Baltimore team, but they were also hobbled when Don Maynard, their speedy flanker and favorite Namath target, pulled a hamstring muscle. Maynard caught no passes that day. But Mr. Sauer, a split end who lacked great speed but ran textbook pass patterns, caught eight.

Mr. Sauer was a four-time All-Star in the American Football League. He played for the Jets in the AFL and then the National Football League from 1965 through 1970, appearing in 84 games and catching 309 passes for 4,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

He retired from the NFL at the end of the 1970 season at 27, at the peak of his career (though he would return briefly to the game with short-lived rival leagues).

He had grown to hate the life of a pro football player, he said.


‘‘When you get to the college and professional levels, the coaches still treat you as an adolescent,’’ he said in an interview in 1971 with the Institute for the Study of Sport and Society. ‘‘They know damn well that you were never given a chance to become responsible or self-disciplined. Even in the pros, you were told when to go to bed, when to turn your lights off, when to wake up, when to eat and what to eat. You even have to live and eat together like you were in a boys’ camp.’’

Ten years later, he remained just as disillusioned. In an interview with The New York Times, he called professional football ‘‘a grotesque business’’ designed to ‘‘mold you into someone easy to manipulate.’’

His attitude did not surprise his father, George H. Sauer Sr., a former college coach and later a pro football executive. ‘‘He definitely does not like to be regimented,’’ he said of his son.

George Henry Sauer Jr. was born to George and Lillian Sauer on Nov. 10, 1943, in Sheboygan, Wis., and raised in Waco, Texas. At 6 feet 2 inches and 195 pounds, he was an outstanding receiver at the University of Texas, where he gave up premedical studies because he did not have time for both that and football. He was a member of Texas teams that went undefeated in 1963-64, winning the Cotton Bowl, and that defeated Alabama in the 1965 Orange Bowl.

He skipped his last year of college eligibility and signed with the Jets, where his father was the player personnel director.


Mr. Sauer was married and divorced several times. His sister is his only immediate survivor.

After leaving the Jets, Mr. Sauer played for the New York Stars and the Charlotte Hornets of the short-lived World Football League in 1974. In 1979, he was an assistant coach with the Carolina Chargers of the American Football Association.

He also furthered an interest in writing, turning out novels, poetry, and book reviews.

Mr. Sauer expressed his misgivings about the football life in an article in The Times in 1983.

‘‘My passion for the game was not sufficient,’’ he wrote. ‘‘Football is an ambiguous sport, depending both on grace and violence. It both glorifies and destroys bodies. At the time, I could not reconcile the apparent inconsistency. I care even less about being a public person. You stick out too much, the world enlarges around you to dangerous proportions, and you are too evident to too many others. There is a vulnerability in this and, oddly enough, some guilt involved in standing out.’’