Gale Sayers, a Hall-of-Fame running back and one of the most transcendental stars of the 1960s, has died at the age of 77, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced on Wednesday morning.
“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 & CEO David Baker said. “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 only spent seven years in the NFL, robbed by knee injuries along the way, but he is still considered one of the greatest players of his position in the history of the league.
Taken by the Bears fourth overall in the 1965 draft after an All-American career at Kansas University, Sayers immediately became a superstar in the NFL, displaying a dynamic, exhilarating style of football that has rarely been equaled over the decades since his retirement.
In his rookie season alone, Sayers rushed for 867 yards and 14 touchdowns while adding six receiving scores, a kick-off return, and a punt-return for scores, setting a then-NFL record with 22 touchdowns on the year. Six of them came in one game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Over his first three professional seasons, he led the NFL in all-purpose yards, including a 1966 campaign that saw him lead the league with 1,231 yards on the ground.
After undergoing season-ending knee surgery in 1968, Sayers returned in 1969 to lead the league in rushing once more but compiling injuries halted his career far-too short, forcing him to retire in 1972.
Still, he amassed an impressive 9,435 combined net yards, 4,956 yards rushing, and 39 rushing touchdowns over his 68 career games.
He is the youngest-ever enshrinee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, gaining entry at just 34 years old in 1977. He was also named to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team, the 50th anniversary All-Time team, the 75th anniversary All-Time Team and the 100th anniversary All-Time Team.
In 2017, Sayers’ family announced that he was battling dementia. He had sued the NFL three years earlier because of concussions that led to a myriad of issues, including “loss of memory, dementia, Alzheimer’s, neirolohical disorder, depression, sleep problems and irritability,” per the Kansas City Star.