Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers has passed away at the age of 77, the team announced Wednesday.
“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 H. 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. Coach Halas said it best, when presenting Gale for induction at the Hall of Fame: ‘His like will never be seen again.’ On behalf of the McCaskey family, we offer our sincerest condolences to Ardie and the entire Sayers family.”
The "Kansas Comet" was a two-time All-American for the Jayhawks and dazzled with the Bears in a career that lasted just seven seasons because of knee injuries. He was a five-time All-Pro who remains the youngest player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, enshrined at 34 in 1977.
“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 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."
Sayers had been weakened by dementia, which was diagnosed more than five years ago.
He was Rookie of the Year in 1965 after being drafted one spot behind Dick Butkus with the No. 4 overall pick. He scored six touchdowns in a win over San Francisco at muddy Wrigley Field that season and made four Pro Bowls before hanging it up in 1971.
"He looked like he was gliding," Hall of Fame tight end and iconic coach Mike Ditka said. "I mean, the field was muddy. Everybody was slipping and sliding, except him. It was the most unbelievable exhibition I've seen in the history of the game. There probably was nothing like that. Just a great, great guy. Great guy. Gale was humble, never said a whole lot. But he was a super football player."
“Will miss a great friend who helped me become the player I became because after practicing and scrimmaging against Gale I knew I could play against anybody,” former teammate and Hall of Famer Dick Butkus said in a statement. “We lost one of the best Bears ever and more importantly we lost a great person.”