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Before Walter Payton, before Barry Sanders, before Emmitt Smith, there was Gale Sayers.
One of the NFL’s first true do-it-all running backs, Sayers put together four remarkable seasons during his seven years with the Chicago Bears, seasons that were so impressive that at age 34—despite only playing in 68 games—he was voted into the Hall of Fame, making him the youngest ever inductee.
Sayers passed away on September 23, 2020, at the age of 77. Here, we pay homage to one of football’s classiest, most beloved players
GALE'S NICKNAME WAS STRAIGHT-UP AWESOME
Born in Wichita, Sayers was dubbed “The Kansas Comet,” and considering the absurd numbers he posted at the University of Kansas, it was an apt moniker.
During his three years as a Jayhawk, we’re talking 3,073 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry and 11.4 yards per reception, so it was little surprise that the Bears pounced on him with the fourth pick of the 1965 draft.
DUDE COULD SCORE...AND SCORE...AND SCORE...
In his rookie season, Sayers racked up a then-NFL record 22 touchdowns, 14 of which came on the ground, with the other 8 through the air. On October 17, 1965—in only his fifth career game—Sayers found the end zone via the run, the pass, and the return, making him one of only two players in NFL history to pull that trifecta. (The other: Kansas City’s contemporary comet, Tyreek Hill.) Later that season, he scored a whopping 6 TDs in one game, the most ever for a running back.
NOBODY LIKED PLAYING AGAINST SAYERS
Dick Butkus, fellow Bear and one of the scariest linebackers in NFL history, hated going up against his shifty teammate.
“He had this ability to go full speed,” Butkus complained, “cut and then go full speed again right away. I saw it every day in practice. We played live, and you could never get a clean shot on Gale. Never.”
If Sayers frustrated a beast like Butkus, imagine how freaked out his opponents were.
GALE’S HURT KNEES DIDN’T HURT HIM AS MUCH AS YOU’D THINK
As hard as he competed on the gridiron, Sayers was more concerned about the life he led off the field. Those aforementioned knee injuries derailed his career, but he was less fazed than anybody, saying, “I don’t care to be remembered as the man who scored six touchdowns in a game. I want to be remembered as a winner in life.”
AND THAT LIFE WAS WORTHY OF A CLASSIC FILM
Chances are if you know only one thing about Gale Sayers, that thing is his relationship with fellow Bears running back Brian Piccolo, a relationship that was brilliantly documented in the 1971 made-for-television movie Brian’s Song.
The film—which is based on Sayers’ 1970 autobiography I Am Third—tells the story of the unlikely friendship between the hobbled star and the cancer-suffering rookie. In an era of segregation, the fact that the two Bears roomed together on the road was, to many of their teammates, mindboggling.
Despite of the fact that his own career was coming to a premature end, Sayers supported Piccolo throughout his cancer treatment, tangible proof that Gale Sayers, as was his wish, will always be remembered as a winner in life.