Wed Sep 23 9:54am ET
** FILE ** Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears is shown in this undated photo. Sayers has a new memoir coming out titled "Sayers: My Life and Times". (AP Photo,File)
CHICAGO (AP) 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.
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. Yet it was his rock-steady friendship with Brian Piccolo, depicted in the film ''Brian's Song,'' that marked him as more than a sports star.
''He was the very essence of a team player - quiet, unassuming and always ready to compliment a teammate for a key block,'' Hall of Fame President David Baker said. ''Gale was an extraordinary man who overcame a great deal of adversity during his NFL career and life.''
He became a stockbroker, sports administrator, businessman and philanthropist for several inner-city Chicago youth initiatives after his pro football career was cut short by serious injuries to both knees.
Sayers was a two-time All-American at Kansas and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as well. He was selected by Chicago with the fourth pick overall in 1965, and his versatility produced dividends and highlight-reel slaloms through opposing defenses right from the start.
He tied one NFL record with six touchdowns in a game and set another with 22 touchdowns in his first season: 14 rushing, six receiving, one punt and one kickoff return. Sayers was a unanimous choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Sayers followed that by being voted an All-Pro during the first five of his seven NFL seasons (1965-71). But he was stuck on a handful of middling-to-bad Bears teams and, like Dick Butkus, another Hall of Fame teammate selected in the same 1965 draft, he never played in the postseason. Sayers appeared in only 68 games total and just two in each of his final two seasons while attempting to return from those knee injuries.
Butkus said he hadn't even seen Sayers play until a highlight film was shown at an event in New York that both attended honoring the 1964 All-America team. He said the real-life version of Sayers was even better.
''He was amazing. I still attribute a lot of my success from trying to tackle him (in practice),'' Butkus said at the Bears' 100th anniversary celebration in June 2019.
''I never came up against a running back like him in my whole career, as far as a halfback. And that was counting O.J. (Simpson) and a couple of other guys,'' he added. ''No one could touch this guy.''
The Bears drafted them with back-to-back picks in '65, taking Butkus at No. 3 and Sayers at No. 4. It didn't take long for Sayers to win over veterans who had helped the Bears take the NFL championship in 1963.
''We were both No. 1s, so they're going to make it hard on us and show us the ropes and everything else,'' Butkus said. ''But Gale just ran circles around everybody. Quickly, they adopted him.''
The friendship between Sayers and backfield mate Piccolo began in 1967, when the two became unlikely roommates. In an era of sometimes tense race relations, Sayers was black and already a star; Piccolo was white and had worked his way up from the practice squad. Early on, they were competing for playing time and carries.
But when the club dropped its policy of segregating players by race in hotel room assignments, they forged a bond. In 1968, Piccolo helped Sayers through a tough rehab process while he recovered from a torn ligament in his right knee. After Sayers returned the next season to become an All-Pro, he made sure his friend shared in the credit.
They became even closer after Piccolo pulled himself out of a game early in the 1969 season because of breathing difficulties and was diagnosed with cancer. That phase of their friendship was recounted first by Sayers in his autobiography, ''I Am Third,'' and then in the 1971 movie ''Brian's Song.''
With actor Billy Dee Williams playing Sayers and James Caan in Piccolo's role, the made-for-TV movie was later released in theaters.
Sayers stayed by Piccolo's side as the illness took its toll, donating blood and providing support. Just days before Piccolo's death age 26, Sayers received the George S. Halas Award for courage and said: ''You flatter me by giving me this award, but I can tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian 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.''
After his playing days, Sayers served as athletic director at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and founded several technology and consulting businesses.
Sayers made the 130-mile trip from his home in Indiana to attend the opening ceremony of the Bears' 100th-season celebration in June 2019, receiving a rousing ovation.
''It's amazing someone that was so beautiful and gifted and talented as a player and later in life to have that happen to you is really, I know, tough on everybody,'' Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary said that weekend.
''It's tough on his teammates, former teammates. It's tough on the league. And as a player,'' Singletary concluded, ''it just makes you take a step back and thank God every day for your own health and blessings.''
Five Fantasy Takeaways from Week 6
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown returned after a one game absence, but it looks like he took this game off as well. Brown failed to haul in all of his four targets during the Week 6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Quarterback Josh Allen had a tough time connecting with his receivers in this one. However, both Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley found the end zone. Brown should have WR4 upside against the New York Jets next week.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis was not able to do much damage against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. He finished with one reception on his lone target of the game for seven yards in the loss. Quarterback Josh Allen did not have a good game throwing the ball, so that was part of the problem as well. Davis is likely going to get lost in the shuffle with the Bills receivers healthy at the moment. He might have desperation deep league appeal against the awful New York Jets Defense in Week 7.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley has been reliable all season long and that continued against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. He hauled in four of his seven targets for 45 yards and one touchdown. The Bills weren't able to get the air attack going well in this game. However, that should change next week against the horrendous New York Jets Defense. Beasley continues to be a reliable PPR option and that should be the case next week as well.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs had a fairly quiet game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. He hauled in six of his eight targets for 46 yards and one touchdown in the loss. He led the Bills in all receiving categories, but quarterback Josh Allen finished with a total of 122 passing yards in this game. Diggs salvaged his fantasy value with the touchdown, but he should rebound nicely next week. He'll get a favorable matchup against the New York Jets in Week 7. Fantasy owners should be able to lean on him as a WR1 for that game.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman only received one target on Monday and recorded zero yards against the Buffalo Bills. Hardman is a weekly boom or bust candidate and he had some potential in Week 6 with Sammy Watkins (hamstring) sidelined, but it was Demarcus Robinson who took advantage on Monday. Due to inconsistent performances, Hardman is only WR4/WR5 with upside most weeks. Hardman will look to pick up some stats against the Denver Broncos in a Week 7 matchup.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary was the lead back once again, but failed to do much damage on the ground. He rushed 10 times for 32 yards on the ground in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Singletary also hauled in one of two targets for 13 yards through the air. Rookie Zack Moss did return in this game, but Singletary still managed to get double digit carries. Fantasy owners should be able to lean on Singletary as a low-end RB2 against the New York Jets next week.
Buffalo Bills running back Zack Moss (toe) was able to suit up for the Week 6 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. He missed each of the last three games due to a toe issue, but honestly he could've missed this one too and it wouldn't have changed anything. Moss finished with 10 yards on five carries in the loss to the Chiefs. Devin Singletary remained the lead back and that will probably be the case going forward. Moss should have increased value against the New York Jets next week. He could be worth a stash for that matchup.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen had arguably his worst game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. He completed 14 of 27 passing attempts for 122 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the loss. He also added 42 yards on the ground with eight rushing attempts. Allen started off red-hot to begin the season, but hasn't looked the same over the last two weeks. He should be a top tier QB1 for the Week 7 matchup against the New York Jets.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Darrel Williams rushed six times for 26 yards and a touchdown on Monday against the Buffalo Bills. Williams also snagged one reception for 15 yards. The Chiefs ran the ball 46 times and part of that could be because of the bad forecast throughout the game. Despite the nice night, Williams is likely to be demoted to the third running back on the roster with the recent addition of LeVeon Bell. Williams should be avoided in all formats and should only have value if Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Bell were to get hurt.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes went 20-for-25 for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills. He also rushed eight times for 38 yards. It wasnt the most impressive game for the former MVP, but with rainy weather, the Chiefs elected to favor the run in this matchup versus the pass. The former MVP still put together a solid performance overall and will look to keep it going against an underrated Denver Broncos Defense in Week 7. Mahomes remains a QB1 every week.
Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire put together his most dominant performance of the season on Monday versus the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs fed their rookie all night long and CEH responded by rushing for 161 yards on 26 carries. The rookie had his longest run of the season for 31 yards and also chipped in with four catches for eight yards. The rookie has looked strong all season and has become a big threat in the Chiefs powerful offense, but the Chiefs recent signing of LeVeon Bell is expected to put a dent in his workload. Even with Bell in the picture, Edwards-Helaire should be considered a high-end RB2 the rest of the year. The rookie will look to keep the momentum going against the Denver Broncos in Week 7.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce made fantasy managers proud on Monday by scoring touchdowns on five receptions for 65 yards. Kelce did have a fumble, but that was his only error for the night. Kelce continues to operate as a top option for quarterback Patrick Mahomes as part of a 1a/1b option alongside wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The tight end is the best at his position and managers have to be happy with their early investment in him. Kelce should be started every week and will be a TE1 versus the Denver Broncos heading into Week 7.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson put together his best performance of the season on Monday against the Buffalo Bills. Robinson has fallen victim to being on a Chiefs offense with plenty of options, but with Sammy Watkins (hamstring) out, Robinson took advantage by hauling in five catches for 69 yards. Robinson is the model for a boom or bust player and shouldnt be considered more than a WR4/WR5 with upside as long as Watkins is sidelined. Robinson will face the Broncos in Week 7.
Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant (ankle) and wide receiver K.J. Hamler (hamstring) could both potentially return to play in Sundays contest versus Kansas City after missing last Sundays outing due to respective injuries, per head coach Vic Fangio. Fant is the more fantasy relevant of the two, having established a considerable rapport with Drew Lock last season. Fant has hauled in five receptions in three of his four appearances this year, combining for 219 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Hamlers first two contests saw him receive 12 targets, which bodes well for his fantasy upside should he ultimately suit up. Check back throughout the week for updates on both players, whose return would knock Jerry Jeudys appeal down a notch.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku is hoping to have a new home prior to the NFL Trade Deadline on Nov. 3 after once again reportedly asking to be traded. Njoku has been lightly used in the passing game this season by the Browns, hauling in five receptions for 63 yards and one touchdown. Back in 2018, Njoku was a staple of the passing game, amassing 639 receiving yards while starting 14 contests; this season, the presence of Austin Hooper has knocked Njokus fantasy outlook out of consideration. What could spark that intrigue again would be a new situation, with teams such as the Eagles and Patriots presumably having openings heading into the second half of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hills five game touchdown streak ended on Monday against the Buffalo Bills. Hill had a rough night overall and was pretty much non-existent in Week 6. The star receiver rushed one time for five yards and caught all three of targets for a season low 20 yards. Hill was outshined by tight end Travis Kelce and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in this matchup, but managers should just chalk this matchup up as a bad game. Hill remains a WR1 and should be treated that way going into a Week 7 matchup versus the Broncos.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (shoulder) is trending toward a third consecutive absence Sunday when his team takes on the Bills, as head coach Adam Gase was not optimistic Monday that his signal caller would clear the necessary stages to get him back on the field. It seems likely that New York will stick with veteran Joe Flacco for the game in the event that Darnold is unavailable, even as the Jets were shut out Sunday by Miami. So long as Flacco is under center, New Yorks offense can be targeted by fantasy managers attempting to nab opposing defenses. Even upon his activation, Darnold will be in a rough spot from a fantasy perspective due to the Jets offensive line woes and general downturn in production from skill position players.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (foot) and DeSean Jackson (hamstring) were both listed as limited practice participants Monday ahead of Thursdays contest versus the Giants. Both receivers were out of the equation Sunday against Baltimore, with Jackson already expected to suit up come Thursday. As for Jeffery, he would be making his season debut after working his way back from a Lisfranc injury. Having either back in the mix would be a boon for Carson Wentz, who will be without Zach Ertz (ankle) for the foreseeable future. Travis Fulgham has become a breakout fantasy sensation over the past three weeks, and while his stock would take a dip with Jeffery or Jackson back, any of the three are season-long options against a shaky Giants secondary.
New York Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton (foot) was a limited participant in Mondays practice after having sustained a foot injury during Sundays contest versus Washington. Slayton hauled in his first touchdown since Week 1 in the game, but came down awkwardly on his foot after the grab. With little time to recover before Thursdays outing against the Eagles, the fact that he was able to practice in any capacity bodes well for his odds of suiting up. Fantasy managers interested in Slayton will want to keep an eye on Sterling Shepards (toe) status as well, as the latter returning to the mix would zap some of Slaytons intrigue, even if he were fully healthy.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (knee) is not expected to return to the field in time for Sundays game against the Patriots, with a likely return set for Week 8 versus Seattle. Colemans role in the offense took an increased interest Monday with the announcement that Raheem Mostert (ankle) would be headed toward injured reserve, paving the way for Coleman to see an uptick in usage upon his return. Across just 18 carries this season, Coleman is averaging 1.7 yards per rush, which will at least leave the door open for Jerick McKinnon to battle him for a share of starting rusher duties. But Coleman compiled six rushing scores last season for the 49ers and figures to have an opportunity to compete for top back duties at some point. As for the game versus the Patriots, McKinnon should be a RB2/Flex option.