gale sayers cause of death

Sports writer Kevin Blackistone discusses Gale Sayers’ impact with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. The former Chicago Bears running back, whose speed and agility stymied opponents, passed away on Wednesday.

Football, for all its violence, has its share of breathtakingly beautiful moments of motion, such as when a quarterback completes a long arcing pass or when watching an old video of running back Gale Sayers.

The star of the Chicago Bears did not bully his way past the opposition. And he moved, finding ways to escape precarious situations.

It’s true that he possessed a level of speed and cunning that the NFL had never before witnessed. Historically, running backs have been expected to be physical players. To put it another way, they had power.

They bulldozed through whoever or whatever was in their path and entered the end zone. Then this Kansas speed demon named The Comet showed up and made everyone else look like fools. Sometimes he’d put his leg out. You’d reach for it, but he’d shift it out of reach. Without a doubt, he’d vanish. To watch him perform was a sight to behold.

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Sayers Once Said, “All I Needed Was 18 Inches” To Evade A Tackler In A Confined Space

In 1971, Sayers’ friendship with his teammate Brian Piccolo, who died at age 26 from cancer, was the subject of “Brian’s Song,” a television movie that won an Emmy and brought him notoriety beyond the realm of football.

Sayers Once Said, All I Needed Was 18 Inches To Evade A Tackler In A Confined Space

After being a consensus all-American at the University of Kansas (where he was known as “the Kansas Comet”), Sayers opted to play for the more established N.F.L.’s Bears rather than the more promising AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in 1965. And then he had one of the best rookie seasons ever.

He scored 22 touchdowns (including six in a single game) and led the league in all-purpose yards (2,272) and was named to the all-league team for the first time in a streak of five straight years.

With two other players before him, his rookie year performance of six touchdowns was among the greatest offensive displays ever in football. No professional football player has ever scored six touchdowns again.

Sayers accomplished this feat on December 12, 1965, in the mud of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, while playing against the San Francisco 49ers. Sayers was running on slippery patches of temporary turf.

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The Bears scored on a screen pass for 80 yards, two runs of 7 and 21 yards, a 50-yard run in the third quarter, a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter, and an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown. They won 61-20.

Gale “Was One Of The Finest Men In NFL History And One Of The Game’s Most Exciting Players” Is An Understatement

Sayers was a two-time All-American at Kansas and a standout on the gridiron and the track for Omaha Central High School in Nebraska. He was also honored with induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. From the moment he was drafted by Chicago with the fourth overall pick in 1965, his ability to shimmy through defenses in spectacular fashion and generate dividends for the team was clear.

Gale Was One Of The Finest Men In NFL History And One Of The Game's Most Exciting Players Is An Understatement

In his rookie season, he scored 22 total touchdowns (14 on the ground, 6 through the air, 1 through punting, and 1 through a kickoff return), tying and breaking two NFL records. Sayers received all votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Hall of Fame tight end and teammate of Sayers’ in 1965-1966 Mike Ditka once said, “I played football a long time, and I never saw a better football player than Gale Sayers.” I really mean that. Poetry in motion best describes him. Aside from that, he was an excellent human being. It’s a real shame that he’s no longer around. That man was unique.

Later in his career, Ditka coached Walter Payton, providing him with a unique opportunity to observe two of the game’s all-time great running backs in action. Perhaps the most impressive thing he witnessed was Sayers’ six-touchdown performance. During the game against the Giants, everyone on Wrigley Field was slipping and sliding due to the muddy conditions.

“He was playing on a different field than we were,” Ditka said. The field was slick and muddy, making movement difficult. Absolutely incredible. Amazing runs and cuts were coming from him.

During the first five of Sayers’ seven NFL seasons, he was a first-team All-Pro selection (1965-71). However, he was only able to play on mediocre Bears teams and, like his Hall of Fame teammate Dick Butkus,

who was also drafted in 1965, he never got to participate in the postseason. Sayers tried to come back from knee injuries for three years, but he only played in a total of 68 games.

Final Words

Sayers, then 70 years old and in peak physical condition, was diagnosed with dementia in 2013. The condition was most likely brought on by the severe impact, twisting, and shaking of his head that occurred with each tackle. The effects of dementia led to him losing the ability to even sign his name, and he passed away on September 23, 2020.

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  • Karan Sirari

    I am an author and a public speaker. I was born in India and have travelled to many different countries. I have a masters in public communication from California University and I love to write about famous peoples from different industries.

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