NFL Hall of Famer Sayers dies at age 77

Bears star known too for ‘Brian’s Song’


Gale Sayers, a Hall of Fame foot­ball star with the Chicago Bears who found a wider fame through his friend­ship with a can­cer-stricken team­mate, de­picted in the poignant tele­vi­sion movie “Brian’s Song,” died Wed­nes­day. He was 77.

His death was an­nounced by the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame, which did not say where or how he died. His wife, Ardythe, told the Kansas City Star in 2017 that Sayers had de­men­tia, a di­ag­no­sis that she at­trib­uted in part to hits he took as a player.

Sayers, a Wi­chita, Kansas, na­tive who be­came known as “the Kansas Comet,” left an in­deli­ble mark on the NFL de­spite in­juries that ef­fec­tively lim­ited him to five sea­sons and only 68 games. In the his­tory of the sport, few play­ers seemed to match his abil­ity to es­cape from tack­les, hur­dle de­fend­ers and find a way into the end zone.

“Just give me 18 inches of day­light. That’s all I need,” he once said.

A two-time All-Amer­i­can at the Univer­sity of Kansas, Sayers had

one of the great­est de­buts in pro foot­ball his­tory af­ter be­ing drafted by the Bears in 1965. In his rookie sea­son, he scored 22 touch­downs — in­clud­ing six on a muddy field against the San Fran­cisco 49ers, ty­ing a sin­gle-game record — and gained 2,272 all-pur­pose yards, as a run­ner, re­ceiver and kick re­turner.

He was named a first-team all-pro in each of his first five sea­sons, led the NFL in rush­ing in 1966 and again in 1969, and be­came the youngest player in­ducted into the Hall of Fame, at age 34 in 1977. He had by then re­tired af­ter seven sea­sons, his play­ing ca­reer cut short by knee in­juries.

While in­jured, he was of­ten re­placed in the Bears’ back­field by Brian Pic­colo, who be­gan to show signs of fa­tigue in 1969 be­fore be­ing di­ag­nosed with can­cer. The two be­came room­mates dur­ing the Bears’ road trips, cre­at­ing an in­ter­ra­cial friend­ship un­usual for the time. Sayers, who was Black, wore No. 40; Pic­colo, who was White, was No. 41.

When Sayers re­ceived an award for courage, af­ter com­ing back from in­juries in 1969, he said, “You flat­ter me by giv­ing me this award, but I tell you here and now that I ac­cept it for Brian Pic­colo. I love Brian Pic­colo and I’d like all of you to love him, too.”

Sayers was of­ten at Pic­colo’s side un­til he died at 26 in 1970. Sayers wrote about their friend­ship in a 1970 mem­oir, “I Am Third,” co-writ­ten with Al Sil­ver­man, which was the ba­sis for the movie “Brian’s Song,” which pre­miered on ABC the next year star­ring James Caan as Pic­colo and Billy Dee Wil­liams as Sayers.

“I al­ways sort of equated his run­ning style to bal­let — Ni­jin­sky,” Wil­liams said of Sayers in an NFL Films pro­duc­tion. “He had that kind of beauty. I loved watch­ing him run. It was po­etry.”


Chicago run­ning back Gale Sayers, who has died at 77, runs for a 28-yard gain against the Los An­ge­les Rams on Oct. 27, 1969. Sayers re­port­edly had de­men­tia from tak­ing hits as a foot­ball player.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.