NFL legend and beloved Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers has died at the age of 77. David Baker, CEO and president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shared the news in a statement Wednesday morning.
“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,” Baker said in a statement released Wednesday. “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.”
“The ‘Kansas Comet’ burst onto the scene in the National Football League and captured the attention of all of America,” Baker’s statement continued. “Despite playing only 68 NFL games because of an injury-shortened career, Gale was a clear-cut — and first-ballot — Hall of Famer for his accomplishments on the field and for the man of character he was in life. The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Gale. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Ardie, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will fly at half-staff until he is laid to rest.”
Sayers Was One of Chicago’s Most Beloved Sports Figures of All-Time
Together with Walter Payton, Sayers gave the Bears two of the best running backs to ever play the game. Sayers entered the NFL as a rookie in 1965, and few players made such an impact upon their arrivals. He scored 22 touchdowns that year — including six in one game — and while his career lasted only seven seasons, his toughness, natural physical gifts and unmatched skills on the football field made him one of the NFL’s all-time greats.
What may be more impressive is that he didn’t play much in two of his seven seasons. A series of injuries, including a knee injury in 1968, kept him off the field for multiple games. Sayers played in fewer than 10 games all but once during his final four seasons. The one year in which he hit the double-digit mark, though, Sayers racked up 1,032 yards with eight touchdowns on the ground.
When giving Sayers’ Hall of Fame induction speech in July of 1977, a legend in his own right, George Halas, said the following about Sayers: “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.”
Sayers’ Impact Was Incredible & Undeniable
Sayers was one of the first — if not the first — complete backs to ever play the game. Before Christian McCaffrey or Ezekiel Elliott became the prototype for a do-it-all running back, there was Gale Sayers. He could run, catch and return kicks with the best of them, and he often did so playing on very, very bad Bears teams. Few players on offense or defense were ever as dynamic, or as well-regarded.
Sayers also became a bit of a pop culture icon when his real-life friendship with former teammate Brian Piccolo was chronicled in the film Brian’s Song. Played by Billy Dee Williams, the 1971 film was centered around the friendship the two running backs shared in the Bears’ backfield as Sayers stood by Piccolo, (James Caan), who was battling terminal cancer. Piccolo died in 1970, and Sayers retired in 1971.
Sayers had been battling dementia for the last several years.
Over his career, Sayers had 9,435 total yards, 4,956 yards rushing, and 336 total points scored. He had six children, one daughter, and five sons, and is survived by his wife Ardythe.