Gale Sayers, Bears Hall of Fame running back, dies at 77

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1970 AP

FILE - This is a 1970 file photo showing Chicago Bears football player Gale Sayers. Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, who made his mark as one of the NFLs best all-purpose running backs and was later celebrated for his enduring friendship with a Chicago Bears teammate with cancer, has died. He was 77. Nicknamed The Kansas Comet and considered among the best open-field runners the game has ever seen, Sayers died Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/FIle)

CHICAGO – Gale Sayers, the dazzling and elusive running back who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite the briefest of careers and whose fame extended far beyond the field for decades thanks to a friendship with a dying Chicago Bears teammate, has died. He was 77.

Nicknamed “The Kansas Comet” and considered among the best open-field runners the game has ever seen, Sayers died Wednesday, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Relatives of Sayers had said he was diagnosed with dementia. In March 2017, his wife, Ardythe, said she partly blamed his football career.

“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."

Sayers was a blur to NFL defenses, ghosting would-be tacklers or zooming by them like few running backs or kick returners before or since. Yet it was his rock-steady friendship with Piccolo, depicted in the film “Brian’s Song,” that marked him as more than a sports star.

“He was the very essence of a team player — quiet, unassuming and always ready to compliment a teammate for a key block,” Hall of Fame President David Baker said. “Gale was an extraordinary man who overcame a great deal of adversity during his NFL career and life.”

Sayers became a stockbroker, sports administrator, businessman and philanthropist for several inner-city Chicago youth initiatives after his pro football career was cut short by serious injuries to both knees.

“Gale was one of the finest men in NFL history and one of the game’s most exciting players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “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.”