Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports. “No question about it.”. The “Kansas Comet,” as Mr. Sayers was nicknamed, was one of the most agile and elusive ballcarriers ever. His six-touchdown day as a rookie was one of the greatest displays of offense by a single player in football history, matching a feat accomplished by two earlier players. Here I am, getting weepy again just thinking about the marvelous performances by Billy Dee Williams as Sayers, and James Caan as Piccolo. He was the athletic director at Southern Illinois University for five years before resigning in 1981. Sayers averaged 5 yards per carry, ranking him among the game’s all-time greats, like Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. Mr. Sayers amassed 9,435 all-purpose yards, which ranks fourth in Bears history behind Payton, running back Matt Forte (12,718) and return specialist Devin Hester (10,196). Piccolo, likewise, told biographer Jeannie Morris that he thought Sayers was “arrogant … I didn’t see him speak to a soul the whole week we were together.”. Mr. Sayers rushed for 4,956 yards and scored 56 touchdowns in his career. Billy Dee Williams and James Caan in "Brian's Song. FILE - From left are 1970 file photos showing Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. CHICAGO — Gale Sayers, the dazzling Chicago Bears running back and kick returner whose injury-shortened career made him the youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a years-long decline in health that included dementia. Sayers, who was Black, was paired with his backup, Brian Piccolo, who was white — apparently the first time a Black and white player had shared a hotel room for an N.F.L. In my first three years, I had job opportunities from two companies. “He was amazing,” Volk recalled in 2017. Piccolo came from Wake Forest, an overachiever who rushed for more yards than any other college back, but whose diminutive stature at 6′ 205 pounds made him a longshot to even make the Bears team. It’s just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force they play the game in.”, Gale Sayers Dies; Elusive Hall of Fame Running Back Was 77. Both had rare abilities, supported by courage, desire and spirit.”. Gale Sayers’s speech in ‘Brian’s Song’ is an essential piece of sports-movie history Brian Piccolo, left, and Gale Sayers were close as Chicago Bears teammates. Years later, Sayers noted that nobody on the Bears’ bench had known that he had tied the record when the venerable coach George Halas sat him down and sent in subs with the game clinched. Sayers had kept a low profile in recent years, as he fought debilitating dementia. Indeed, Mr. Sayers returned to Kansas in 1973 to work as an assistant athletic director. In 1977, Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at 34; he remains the youngest person to receive the honor. On Wednesday, Butkus paid tribute to his longtime friend and old teammate. Sayers began to suffer memory loss around 2013 and was examined at the Mayo Clinic. "To one of the greatest ever an inspiration to so many," Caan wrote. But if I wanted a player for one play, I’ll take Gale Sayers above every running back I’ve seen — whether it be Jim Brown or O.J. Caan, who made "Brian's Song" a year before his star took off as Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather," on Wednesday tweeted a picture of Sayers and offered his condolences to the football great's loved ones. Sayers in 1967, when he joined a brokerage firm’s training program. The two men bonded, partly through racial jokes. (AP Photo/File), Connect with the definitive source for global and local news. He was 77. It is Brian Piccolo’s tomorrow.”. Sayers sued the N.F.L. © Copyright 2020 Variety Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media, LLC. Mr. Sayers' brain health worsened to the point he could barely speak by the Bears100 Celebration. Chicago won, 29-16, behind five field goals from Mac Percival and a 96-yard interception return by Roosevelt Taylor. Butkus remembered how Bears veterans made it difficult on their rookie class. "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 and CEO David Baker said of Sayers. In addition to his stepson Guy, he is also survived by a daughter, Gale Lynne, and two sons, Timothy and Scott, from his first marriage; two other stepsons, Gaylon and Gary; two brothers, Roger, a former track and field star, and Ron, who played eight games as a running back for the San Diego Chargers in the N.F.L. He later would learn that the ligaments on the medial side were destroyed, as well as the anterior cruciate ligament. Piccolo died on June 16, 1970, at 26. He was 26 years old. I learned later Butkus had knee injuries in high school and college. "Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas Award. Sayers used that platform to pay tribute to his dying friend. Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, who made his mark as one of the NFL’s best all-purpose running backs and was later celebrated for his enduring friendship with Chicago Bears teammate Brian Piccolo, has … Sayers chronicled their friendship in the book “I Am Third,” written with the help of Al Silverman and published that November.