CHICAGO — Corridor of Famer Gale Sayers, who made his mark as one of many NFL’s greatest all-purpose working backs and was later celebrated for his enduring friendship with a Chicago Bears teammate with most cancers, has died. He was 77.
Nicknamed “The Kansas Comet” and regarded among the many greatest open-field runners the sport has ever seen, Sayers died Wednesday, based on the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame.
Relations of Sayers had mentioned he was identified with dementia. In March 2017, his spouse, Ardythe, mentioned she partly blamed his soccer profession.
Sayers was a blur to NFL defenses, ghosting would-be tacklers or zooming by them like few working backs or kick returners earlier than or since. But it was his rock-steady friendship with Brian Piccolo, depicted within the movie “Brian’s Track,” that marked him as greater than a sports activities star.
“He was the very essence of a group participant — quiet, unassuming and all the time prepared to go with a teammate for a key block,” Corridor of Fame President David Baker mentioned. “Gale was a rare man who overcame a substantial amount of adversity throughout his NFL profession and life.”
He grew to become a stockbroker, sports activities administrator, businessman and philanthropist for a number of inner-city Chicago youth initiatives after his professional soccer profession was reduce brief by severe accidents to each knees.
Sayers was a two-time All-American at Kansas and inducted into the School Soccer Corridor of Fame as properly. He was chosen by Chicago with the fourth choose total in 1965, and his versatility produced dividends and highlight-reel slaloms via opposing defenses proper from the beginning.
He tied one NFL file with six touchdowns in a recreation and set one other with 22 touchdowns in his first season: 14 speeding, six receiving, one punt and one kickoff return. Sayers was a unanimous alternative for Offensive Rookie of the 12 months.
Sayers adopted that by being voted an All-Professional through the first 5 of his seven NFL seasons (1965-71). However he was caught on a handful of middling-to-bad Bears groups and, like Dick Butkus, one other Corridor of Fame teammate chosen in the identical 1965 draft, he by no means performed within the postseason. Sayers appeared in solely 68 video games whole and simply two in every of his last two seasons whereas trying to return from these knee accidents.
Butkus mentioned he hadn’t even seen Sayers play till a spotlight movie was proven at an occasion in New York that each attended honoring the 1964 All-America group. He mentioned the real-life model of Sayers was even higher.
“He was wonderful. I nonetheless attribute a number of my success from making an attempt to sort out him (in follow),” Butkus mentioned on the Bears’ 100th anniversary celebration in June 2019.
“I by no means got here up in opposition to a working again like him in my complete profession, so far as a halfback. And that was counting O.J. (Simpson) and a few different guys,” he added. “Nobody may contact this man.”
The Bears drafted them with back-to-back picks in ’65, taking Butkus at No. three and Sayers at No. 4. It didn’t take lengthy for Sayers to win over veterans who had helped the Bears take the NFL championship in 1963.
“We had been each No. 1s, in order that they’re going to make it arduous on us and present us the ropes and the whole lot else,” Butkus mentioned. “However Gale simply ran circles round everyone. Rapidly, they adopted him.”
The friendship between Sayers and backfield mate Piccolo started in 1967, when the 2 grew to become unlikely roommates. In an period of typically tense race relations, Sayers was black and already a star; Piccolo was white and had labored his method up from the follow squad. Early on, they had been competing for enjoying time and carries.
However when the membership dropped its coverage of segregating gamers by race in resort room assignments, they solid a bond. In 1968, Piccolo helped Sayers via a troublesome rehab course of whereas he recovered from a torn ligament in his proper knee. After Sayers returned the following season to grow to be an All-Professional, he made certain his good friend shared within the credit score.
They grew to become even nearer after Piccolo pulled himself out of a recreation early within the 1969 season due to respiration difficulties and was identified with most cancers. That part of their friendship was recounted first by Sayers in his autobiography, “I Am Third,” after which within the 1971 film “Brian’s Track.”
With actor Billy Dee Williams taking part in Sayers and James Caan in Piccolo’s function, the made-for-TV film was later launched in theaters.
Sayers stayed by Piccolo’s facet because the sickness took its toll, donating blood and offering help. Simply days earlier than Piccolo’s demise age 26, Sayers obtained the George S. Halas Award for braveness and mentioned: “You flatter me by giving me this award, however I can let you know right here and now that I settle for it for Brian Piccolo. … I really like Brian Piccolo and I’d like all of you to like him, too. Tonight, while you hit your knees, please ask God to like him.”
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After his taking part in days, Sayers served as athletic director at Southern Illinois College-Carbondale and based a number of expertise and consulting companies.
Sayers made the 130-mile journey from his residence in Indiana to attend the opening ceremony of the Bears’ 100th-season celebration in June 2019, receiving a rousing ovation.
“It’s wonderful somebody that was so stunning and gifted and gifted as a participant and later in life to have that occur to you is absolutely, I do know, robust on everyone,” Corridor of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary mentioned that weekend.
“It’s robust on his teammates, former teammates. It’s robust on the league. And as a participant,” Singletary concluded, “it simply makes you’re taking a step again and thank God each day on your personal well being and blessings.”