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You Tube Gold: The Kansas Comet

Gale Sayers was like no other running back

Gale Sayers Gets Around Kermit Alexander
Gale Sayers breaking free as a Chicago Bear

Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers, who died on Tuesday, was a phenomenal talent. He was unbelievably agile and fast. He combined those two talents well because if (when) he got around you, there was literally no catching him.

He played for the Bears back in the days before, or maybe mostly before, astroturf. If it rained, you just got muddy. It was a very different game.

In this clip of a muddy game between the Bears and the San Francisco 49ers, Sayers scored six touchdowns when most players could barely stand up.

That’s insane in and of itself but check this out: he only had nine carries (he also returned a kickoff for a touchdown and scored another on a passing play).

Injuries limited him to just six years but he was nonetheless one of the most unforgettable players of all time.

He was later the Director of Athletics for Southern Illinois and went on to found his own computer company which was also successful.

Sayers was also famous for another reason: his deep friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo.

Piccolo played at Wake Forest and had a tremendous career there but went undrafted. At Wake Forest, he did something that, in 1963, just three years after the Greensboro sit-in, took courage.

Maryland came to Winston-Salem with its first Black player, Daryl Hill, who was being abused and demeaned by Wake Forest “fans.” Piccolo went over to the Maryland bench, walked with Hill over to the Wake student section, and put his arm around him. The Wake students stopped abusing him immediately.

That sounds trivial now but the following summer, civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, would be murdered by Mississippi Klansmen. In 1963 it took some courage to stand up to the mob.

Piccolo hooked on with the Bears and he and Sayers became fast friends. Very sadly, he died of cancer in 1970.

His great friend was with him every step of the way and when Sayers won the George S. Halas Award for Most Courageous Player shortly before Piccolo’s death, Sayers accepted it and said it had gone to the wrong person, and that “I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees to pray, please ask God to love him, too.”

The next day he gave the award to Piccolo.

Their friendship became the subject of a beloved film called Brian’s Song that had a powerful effect on early 1970’s America.

In his last years, Sayers suffered from dementia and symptoms that seem very similar at least to those of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), although CTE cannot be diagnosed without an autopsy.

Eventually he was wheelchair bound.

It’s sad to think that someone who was so wildly gifted, who ran so freely that he once said “all I need is eighteen inches” to run free finished his life unable to get out of his chair without help.

Watching him swivel and swerve and then explode and leave 21 other men in his dust is still something to see.