Gale Sayers, the Chicago Bears’ dazzling running back whose injury-shortened career made him the youngest player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died Wednesday after a long decline in health that included dementia. He was 77. Sayers’ enduring friendship with Brian Piccolo became the subject of “Brian’s Song,” a 1971 made-forTV movie that remains one of the most popular sports movies of all time.
Gale Sayers, the dazzling and elusive running back who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite the briefest of careers and whose fame extended far beyond the field for decades thanks to a friendship with a dying Chicago Bears teammate, has died. He was 77.
Nicknamed “The Kansas Comet” and considered among the best openfield runners the game has ever seen, Sayers died Wednesday, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Relatives of Sayers had said he was diagnosed with dementia.
“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 McCaskey said in a statement.
“People who weren’t even football fans came to know Gale through the TV movie ‘Brian’s Song,’ about his friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo. Fifty years later, the movie’s message that brotherhood and love needn’t be defined by skin color still resonates.“
Sayers was a blur to NFL defenses, ghosting wouldbe tacklers or zooming by them like few running backs or kick returners before or since. Yet it was his rocksteady friendship with Piccolo, depicted in the film “Brian’s Song,” that marked him as more than a sports star.
“He was the very essence of a team player: quiet, unassuming and always ready to compliment a teammate for a key block,” Hall of Fame President David Baker said. “Gale was an extraordinary man who overcame a great deal of adversity during his NFL career and life.”
Sayers became a stockbroker, sports administrator, businessman and philanthropist for several innercity Chicago youth initiatives after his pro football career was cut short by serious injuries to both knees.
“Gale was one of the finest men in NFL history and one of the game’s most exciting players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Gale was an electrifying and elusive runner who thrilled fans every time he touched the ball.”
Sayers was a twotime AllAmerican at Kansas and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was selected by Chicago with the fourth pick overall in 1965, and his versatility produced dividends and highlightreel slaloms through opposing defenses right from the start.
He tied one NFL record with six touchdowns in a game against the 49ers and set another with 22 touchdowns in his first season: 14 rushing, six receiving, one punt and one kickoff return. Sayers was a unanimous choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears left many defensive players in his wake.