“Just provide me 18 inches of daytime. That’s all I need,” he once said.
A two-time All-American at the University of Kansas, Mr. Sayers had one of the best launchings in professional football history after being drafted by the Bears in late 1964. In his novice season, he scored 22 goals– including six on a muddy field against the San Francisco 49ers, tying a single-game record– and acquired 2,272 all-purpose yards, as a runner, kick and receiver returner.
He was named a first-team all-pro in each of his first 5 seasons, led the NFL in entering 1966 and once again in 1969, and ended up being the youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame, at age 34 in 1977. He had actually already retired after 7 seasons, his playing profession cut brief by knee injuries.
His death was revealed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which did not say where or how he died. His spouse, Ardythe, told the Kansas City Star in 2017 that Mr. Sayers had dementia, a diagnosis that she associated in part to hits he took as a player.
Mr. Sayers, a Wichita local who became known as “the Kansas Comet,” left an indelible mark on the NFL despite injuries that successfully limited him to five seasons and only 68 video games. In the history of the sport, few players appeared to match his capability to get away from takes on, difficulty defenders and find a method into the end zone.
When Mr. Sayers got an award for nerve, after returning from injuries in 1969, he said, “You flatter me by giving me this award, however I inform you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. I enjoy Brian Piccolo and I ‘d like all of you to enjoy him, too.”
Mr. Sayers was often at Piccolo’s side until he died at 26 in 1970. Mr. Sayers wrote about their relationship in a 1970 narrative, “I Am Third,” co-written with Al Silverman, which was the basis for the film “Brian’s Song,” which premiered on ABC the next year starring James Caan as Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Mr. Sayers.
“I constantly sort of related his running design to ballet– Nijinsky,” Williams stated of Mr. Sayers in an NFL Films production. “He had that sort of charm. I liked viewing him run. It was poetry.”
A complete obituary will be released soon.
While hurt, he was often changed in the Bears’ backfield by Brian Piccolo, who began to show indications of tiredness in 1969 before being diagnosed with cancer. The two became roommates throughout the Bears’ trip, creating an interracial friendship unusual for the time. Mr. Sayers, who was Black, used No. 40; Piccolo, who was White, was No. 41.
Mr. Sayers, a Wichita native who ended up being understood as “the Kansas Comet,” left an enduring mark on the NFL regardless of injuries that effectively restricted him to 5 seasons and just 68 video games. When Mr. Sayers got an award for nerve, after coming back from injuries in 1969, he said, “You flatter me by giving me this award, however I inform you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Mr. Sayers was typically at Piccolo’s side till he passed away at 26 in 1970.”I always sort of corresponded his running style to ballet– Nijinsky,” Williams said of Mr. Sayers in an NFL Films production.