Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers died at age 77 on September 23 after a battle with dementia. Sayers is considered one of the best running backs in NFL history despite having his career cut short by knee injuries.
Known as the “Kansas Comet,” Sayers was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 despite playing just seven seasons with the Bears. At age 34, he was the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“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,” Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement. “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 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,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement.
“Gale was an electrifying and elusive runner who thrilled fans every time he touched the ball. He earned his place as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We will also forever remember Gale for his inspiration and kindness. Gale’s quiet unassuming demeanor belied his determination, competitiveness and compassion,” Goodell continued.
During his career, Sayers was a five-time All-Pro who averaged 5 yards per carry and led the league in rushing twice. In 1969, he led the NFL with 1,032 rushing yards after tearing his ACL and MCL in his right knee late in the season before.
A major injury in his left knee in 1970 was too much for Sayers to overcome, causing him to retire in 1971.
For his career, Sayers had a total of 4,956 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns over primarily five seasons, as he played sparingly during his last two seasons because of injuries.
Additionally, Sayers was devastating as a kick returner, scoring six touchdowns and averaging over 30 yards per kickoff return. As a punt returner, he scored two touchdowns and averaged 14.5 yards per punt return.
Sayers was born in Wichita, Kansas and was an All-American at Kansas. He was a first-round picky by the Bears in 1965 and once scored six touchdowns in a game.
Sayers was awarded the George S. Halas Courage Award in 1969 for his bounce-back season, which he passed on to close friend and teammate Brian Piccolo. Piccolo had a terminal form of cancer. The relationship between the two Bears players was detailed in Sayers’ autobiography “I Am Third” and the TV movie “Brian’s Song.”
In 1994, Sayers was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team at halfback and kick returner. He was the only player named on the team at two positions.