'Kansas Comet' Gale Sayers: 1943 - 2020


The following is a statement from Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker:

“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. 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.

The “Kansas Comet” burst onto the scene in the National Football League and captured the attention of all of America. Despite playing only 68 NFL games because of an injury-shortened career, Gale was a clear-cut — and first-ballot — Hall of Famer for his accomplishments on the field and for the man of character he was in life.

The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Gale. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Ardie, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will fly at half-staff until he is laid to rest.”

“Just give me 18 inches of daylight; that’s all I need.”

The professional football world today is mourning the passing of Gale Sayers, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 1977.

Sayers died early Wednesday morning. He was 77.

The youngest Hall inductee ever at age 34, Sayers began his pro career as the No. 4 overall draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1965. George Halas had his eye on the “Kansas Comet,” and Sayers delivered immediately with the kind of an impact the sport had not felt in many years.

It is difficult to imagine a more dynamic debut than the one he enjoyed as a rookie. In his first heavy preseason action, he raced 77 yards on a punt return, 93 yards on a kickoff return and startled everyone with a 25-yard scoring pass against the Los Angeles Rams.

It was the start of a regular-season debut unlike any other. He scored four touchdowns, including a 96-yard, game-breaking kickoff return, against the Minnesota Vikings. In his the next-to-last game of the season, playing on a muddy Wrigley Field that would have stalled most runners, he pivoted, shifted and applied the brakes as tacklers flew by to score a record-tying six touchdowns in a 61-20 win against the San Francisco 49ers. Included in his sensational spree were an 80-yard pass-run play, a 50-yard rush and a 65-yard punt return. For the entire season, Sayers scored a then-NFL record 22 touchdowns and 132 points, both also then-rookie records.

Quiet, unassuming and always ready to compliment a teammate for a key block, Sayers continued to sizzle in 1967 and well into the 1968 season until the ninth game, when Sayers suffered a knee injury that required immediate surgery.

After a tortuous rehabilitation program, Sayers came back in 1969 in the most spectacular manner, winding up with his second 1,000-yard rushing season and universal Comeback of the Year honors.

It was during this time the Bears instituted the policy of roommates by position during training camp. There was the African American Sayers and white free agent from Wake Forest, Brian Piccolo, who became the first interracial roommates in NFL history. They were competitive, but with their wives became close friends. During the 1969 season, Piccolo was with diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma and died the following spring. Their relationship and love for each other became a made-for-TV movie, “Brian’s Song,” a recipient of three Emmys.

Injuries continued to take their toll on Sayers and, just before the 1972 season, he retired. In his relatively short career, he compiled 9,435 combined net yards, 4,956 yards rushing and 336 points scored.  At the time of his retirement, he was the NFL's all-time leader in kickoff return yards. He won All-NFL honors five consecutive years and was named Offensive Player of the Game in three of the four Pro Bowls in which he played. He holds 20 Bears records and is a member of the NFL100 All-Time Team.

Sayers worked in the athletic department at his alma mater, the University of Kansas, for three and half years before he was named the athletic director at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1976. He stayed there until 1981.

In 1984, Sayers founded Crest Computer Supply Co. in the Chicago area. Under his leadership, this company experienced consistent growth and was renamed Sayers 40, Inc., a technology consulting and implementation firm serving Fortune 1000 companies nationally.

In 2009, Sayers rejoined the University of Kansas’ athletic department as Director of Fundraising for Special Projects.

Sayers and his wife, Ardythe, were philanthropists in the Chicago area, supporting the Cradle Foundation, which founded the Gale Sayers Center in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. 

Sayers’ legacy will be preserved forever at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here are some reactions from across the NFL and beyond: