According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, The NFL Legend Whose Story Was Revealed in the Movie ‘Brian’s Song,’ Dies at 77 on Wednesday.
Nicknamed “The Kansas Comet” and considered among the greatest open-field runners the game has ever seen. Gale Sayers, the dazzling and enigmatic running back who, amid the briefest of careers, joined the Pro Football Hall of Fame and whose fame spread well beyond the field for decades due to a relationship with a dying Chicago Bears teammate, has died at 77.
The former Chicago Bear was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, generally considered as one of the biggest running backs to ever hold a football. Sayer’s family said he had been diagnosed with dementia.
“The NFL family lost a true friend today with the passing of Gale Sayers. Gale was one of the finest men in NFL history and one of the game’s most exciting players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Wednesday.
“Gale was an electrifying and mysterious runner who amazed fans every time he touched the ball,” Goodell said, adding that “for his inspiration and compassion, we will all forever remember Gale.”
Sayers was a blur of NFL defenses, ghosting would-be tacklers or zooming past them like few before or after running backs or kick returners. Yet it was Piccolo’s rock-steady relationship, depicted in the movie ‘Brian’s Song,’ that marked him as more than just a sports star.
“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.”
“Give me 18 inches of daylight. That’s all I need.”
After his pro football career was cut short by severe injuries to both knees, Sayers became a stockbroker, sports administrator, businessman, and philanthropist with many inner-city Chicago youth initiatives.
At Kansas, Sayers was a two-time All-American and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
He was recognized in 1965 by Chicago with the fourth pick overall, and his versatility created dividends and highlight-reel slaloms right from the beginning via opposing defenses.
With six touchdowns in a game, he tied an NFL record and set another in his first season with 22 touchdowns: 14 rushings, six receiving, one punt, and one kickoff return.
Sayers followed that during the first five of his seven NFL seasons (1965-71) by being appointed an All-Pro.
But he was trapped with a couple of middle-to-bad Bears clubs, and he never played in the post-season, including Dick Butkus, another Hall of Fame teammate picked in the same 1965 draft.
“Will miss a great friend who helped me become the player I became because after practicing and scrimmaging against Gale I knew I could play against anybody,” Butkus said. “We lost one of the best Bears ever and more importantly we lost a great person.”
In just 68 games overall and just two in each of his last two seasons, Sayers appeared while seeking to recover from those knee injuries.
Sayers became the youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, at age 34. Bears founder George Halas said in introducing him at the ceremony: “If you wish to see perfection as a running back, you had best get a hold of a film of Gale Sayers. He was poetry in motion. His like will never be seen again.”