Hall of Fame RB Sayers dies at 77
Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers died Tuesday from complications of dementia at his home in Wakarusa, Ind. He was 77.
Sayers played 68 games in an injury-shortened career, entering the NFL as the fourth overall draft pick in 1965. In 1977, he became the youngest Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee ever at age 34.
"Football fans know well Gale's many accomplishments on the field: a rare combination of speed and power as the game's most electrifying runner, a dangerous kick returner, his comeback from a serious knee injury to lead the league in rushing, and becoming the youngest player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said in a statement.
"Coach Halas said it best, when presenting Gale for induction at the Hall of Fame: 'His like will never be seen again.'"
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, also remembered Sayers on Wednesday.
"All those who love the game of football mourn the loss of one of the greatest to ever play this game with the passing of Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers," CEO David Baker said in a statement released Wednesday morning. "He was the very essence of a team player -- quiet, unassuming and always ready to compliment a teammate for a key block. Gale was an extraordinary man who overcame a great deal of adversity during his NFL career and life."
Sayers, known as the Kansas Comet, scored six touchdowns in a game as a rookie for Halas and the Bears. He also scored four touchdowns, including a 96-yard kickoff return, against the Minnesota Vikings in just his fifth NFL game. He was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1965, edging teammate Dick Butkus for the honor.
In his career, Sayers compiled 9,435 combined net yards on returns, 4,956 yards rushing and 336 points.
Sayers suffered a major knee injury nine games into the 1968 season. Another injury in 1970 led Sayers to call it a career.
He was the athletic director at Southern Illinois University at the time of his Hall of Fame induction and later worked at his alma mater, Kansas.
"The NFL family lost a true friend today with the passing of Gale Sayers," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Gale was one of the finest men in NFL history and one of the game's most exciting players.
"Gale was an electrifying and elusive runner who thrilled fans every time he touched the ball. He earned his place as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We will also forever remember Gale for his inspiration and kindness. Gale's quiet unassuming demeanor belied his determination, competitiveness and compassion."
Even non-football fans and subsequent generations knew of Sayers. The story of his friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo as they built racial harmony in the turbulent 1960s and coped with Piccolo's battle with cancer was made into a classic television movie, "Brian's Song," in 1971. James Caan played Piccolo, who died in 1970, and Billy Dee Williams portrayed Sayers.
"My heart is broken over the loss of my dear friend, Gale Sayers," Williams said in a statement posted to Twitter. "Portraying Gale in ‘Brian's Song' was a true honor and one of the nightlights (sic) of my career. He was an extraordinary human being with the kindest heart. My sincerest condolences to his family."
McCaskey said the lessons from the movie apply today, 50 years after Piccolo's death, and add to Sayers' legacy.
"Fifty years later, the movie's message that brotherhood and love needn't be defined by skin color, still resonates," he said.
--Field Level Media
© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.