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Their NFL Friendship Was Made Legendary on the Big Screen

Chicago Bears' Gale Sayers, depicted in 'Brian's Song' as supporting sick teammate, dead at 77
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 23, 2020 11:45 AM CDT

(Newser) – Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, who made his mark as one of the NFL's best all-purpose running backs and was later celebrated for his enduring friendship with a Chicago Bears teammate with cancer, has died. He was 77. Nicknamed the "Kansas Comet" and considered among the best open-field runners the game has ever seen, Sayers died Wednesday, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Relatives of Sayers had said he was diagnosed with dementia. In March 2017, his wife, Ardythe, said she partly blamed his football career, per the AP. Sayers was a two-time All-American at Kansas and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Selected by Chicago with the fourth pick overall in 1965, his versatility produced dividends and highlight-reel slaloms through opposing defenses from the start.

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Sayers was a blur to NFL defenses, ghosting would-be tacklers or zooming by them like few running backs or kick returners before or since. He was voted an All-Pro during the first five of his seven NFL seasons. He also enjoyed a tight friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo that became even closer when Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer in 1969. That phase of their friendship was recounted in the 1971 film Brian's Song, which starred Billy Dee Williams as Sayers and James Caan as Piccolo and marked Sayers as more than a sports star. He stayed by Piccolo's side as the illness took its toll, and days before Piccolo's death at age 26, Sayers received the George S. Halas Courage Award and dedicated it to Piccolo: "I love Brian Piccolo and I'd like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him."

(Read more obituary stories.)

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