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Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears Legend and Subject of ‘Brian’s Song,’ Dies at 77

Athlete known as the ”Kansas Comet“ spent seven seasons with the Bears

Gale Sayers, a legendary halfback and return man best known for his NFL career with the Chicago Bears, as well as the subject of the 1971 biographical drama “Brian’s Song,” has died. He was 77.

David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Sayers was inducted in 1977 as the youngest inductee in the hall’s history, announced the “Kansas Comet’s” passing on Wednesday.

“All those who love the game of football mourn the loss of one of the greatest players to ever play the game with the passing of the Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers,” Baker said in a statement. He was the very essence of a team player – quiet, unassuming and always ready to compliment a team player for a key block. Gale was an extraordinary man who overcame a great deal of adversity during his NFL career and his life.”

The TV movie “Brian’s Song” starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams as Sayers told the story of the relationship between Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer in 1970. Both Piccolo and Sayers were the first interracial roommates in the NFL in 1967, and their bond up until Piccolo’s death inspired Sayers to write his autobiography “I Am Third” that became the basis for the film.

Sayers’ relatively short career netted him rookie records when he scored 22 touchdowns during his first season. He was the NFL’s all-time leader in kickoff return yards at the time of his retirement in 1971 and was honored with All-NFL honors for five straight seasons.

Sayers played football for the University of Kansas and was drafted fourth overall in the 1965 draft. He would later return to college sports as an administrator both at Southern Illinois University and Tennessee State after his career in the NFL.

Another Chicago sports legend, Scottie Pippen, paid tribute to Sayers on Wednesday. “Gale Sayers was someone who I admired long before I arrived in Chicago. I loved his approach to the game and of course, how he played it. He inspired me to be great in a city that loves sports like no other. RIP to one of the @NFL’s best ever,” the Bulls player wrote.