Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers has died aged 77. "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". Nevertheless, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, becoming at 34 the youngest player ever inducted.
Indeed, Sayers said in a 2001 interview that Piccolo's constant joking put him off at first.
Nicknamed the "Kansas Comet" after a brilliant college career with the Jayhawks, Sayers had one of the NFL's all-time best rookie seasons after entering the league as the fourth overall selection in the 1965 NFL draft.
"He was incredible. I still attribute a lot of my success from trying to tackle him (in practice)", Butkus said at the Bears' 100th anniversary celebration in June 2019. And that was counting O.J. "No one could touch this guy".
But when the club dropped its policy of segregating players by race in hotel room assignments, they forged a bond.
Of course, Sayers didn't need time the way most do. Piccolo and Sayers played together for five seasons before Piccolo died of cancer in 1970. His legend continued to grow despite a devastating injury to his right knee that curtailed his 1968 season.
The book's title was a shortened version of his words: "The Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third".
"It just amazes me", Joy Piccolo O'Connell said in an interview from her Wisconsin home.
He was also known for being portrayed by Billy Dee Williams in the 1971 film that told the story of his relationship with fellow Bears running back Brian Piccolo, played by James Caan. "Tonight, when you hit your knees", Sayers concluded, "please ask God to love him".
After his playing days, Sayers served as athletic director at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and founded several technology and consulting businesses.
In a statement released a few hours after Sayers' passing was announced, KU Athletic Director Jeff Long revealed that a statue of Sayers would be unveiled at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium during halftime of KU's home game against Oklahoma State on October 3.