EAST LANSING, Mich. – Former Michigan State All-America fullback George Saimes died Friday, March 8 in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, following a lengthy battle with leukemia. He was 71.
Born Sept. 1, 1941, in Canton, Saimes became a three-time letterman for Duffy Daugherty from 1960-62. He helped the Spartans to a combined record of 18-8-1 (.685) and served as team captain as a senior in 1962.
As a junior, Saimes led the Spartans in rushing with 82 carries for 451 yards (5.5 avg.) and eight touchdowns. He was selected United Press International Midwest Back of the Week after rushing 14 times for a career-best 142 yards and two scores, as top-ranked MSU defeated No. 6 Notre Dame, 17-7. Saimes scored on runs of 24 and 25 yards against the Irish.
The 5-foot-10, 186-pound Saimes finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting and earned First-Team All-America honors as a senior from The Associated Press, UPI, Football Writer's Association, Football Coaches Association, New York News, The Sporting News and CBS-TV. In 1962, he led the team in rushing with 122 attempts for 642 yards (5.2 avg.) and scored nine touchdowns, while registering three interceptions from his safety position. In addition, Saimes was presented the Cleveland Touchdown Club's Joe Fogg Memorial Trophy as the Midwest's Collegiate Player of the Year.
A two-time All-Big Ten selection and two-time team MVP (1961-62), Saimes finished his collegiate career with 1,253 rushing yards, 18 rushing TDs and six interceptions (33 yards).
Following his senior season, he was selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game, Hula Bowl and Coaches' All-America Game. In 1963, Saimes was a sixth-round draft pick by both the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and AFL's Buffalo Bills. He spent 10 years in pro football, including seven seasons in Buffalo (1963-69) and three more in Denver (1970-72), and recorded 22 career interceptions. Saimes, who made five-straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1964-68, was named to the AFL's All-Time Team in 1970 and the Bills' 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2009.
He was inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000. Saimes was selected as the team’s honorary captain for the Spartans’ 10-7 victory at Ohio State in 2011.
Remembering George Saimes . . .
Former teammate Sherman Lewis (halfback, 1961-63):
“George Saimes was the best football player I played with in college. He played both ways and never came off the field. He played fullback on offense and roverback (strong safety) on defense. George was the heart of soul of our team – on both sides of the football. He was a tough, hard-nosed player. Since he never came off the field, he’d be black and blue after every game, but he’d bounce back the next week and come back for more.
“George was a guy that worked to improve his speed in college. He wore weights on both his ankles and shoulders. By the time George was a senior, he had excellent speed.
“I really admired the way George approached the game because he didn’t like to talk. In fact, he hated it whenever he was asked to address the team. George was a different person when he stepped onto the field. He left it all on the field. Again, he’s the finest player I played with at Michigan State.”
Former Michigan State assistant coach Henry Bullough (1959-69, 1994):
“George Saimes was my first recruit at Michigan State because he was from my hometown. I remember taking off after Wednesday practices during spring ball to go down and visit George in Canton. I watched George play in high school, and he was simply a great all-around athlete.
“In college, he and Sherm Lewis played both ways. They often played 60-minute games. George played the roverback position before George Webster came along. He was a great college player but an even better pro. There are many of us who believe George should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of his defensive coaches from the Buffalo Bills once told me that George might have missed three or four tackles during his entire career. The assistant told me ‘George was like gold’ as a safety.”
Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio:
“George Saimes is one of the greatest two-way players in the history of Michigan State football. He was a productive runner and dominant blocker from the fullback position and a consistent playmaker as a safety. George gained great respect from his teammates as a player who left it all on the field. He went on to have a remarkable 10-year career in pro football. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all of his former teammates at this time of sorrow.”