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
The Dallas Cowboys Defense struggled once again in Week 6, allowing 38 points and recording just one sack with no turnovers. They ended up with -3.0 points in standard scoring formats, their third time in six games winding up with negative points. They've totaled seven fantasy points this season. Seven. Even with a seemingly good matchup next week against the struggling Washington Football Team's offense, the Cowboys will not be a recommended fantasy defense.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz made four catches in a Week 6 loss, gaining 35 yards. He was targeted five times, mostly running short routes in a game where Andy Dalton threw the ball 54 times but struggled seemingly every time he threw. Schultz flashed in his first post-Blake Jarwin start, but he's settled into a decent floor but low-ceiling tight end option. He'll come down with a touchdown now and then, but is more of a high-end TE2 in most matchups.
Dallas Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein made one field goal and missed another in Week 6. He made his one extra point attempt. Zuerlein's made field goal came from 34 yards out and his miss came from 58 yards. With the huge downgrade in the Cowboys offense in going from Dak Prescott (ankle) to Andy Dalton, Zuerlein's time as a top-12 kicker this season may have come to an end.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup caught only two passes in a Week 6 trouncing by the Arizona Cardinals. Gallup was targeted six times and dropped a potential first half touchdown, ending up with just 23 yards on the night. Gallup has become very much a boom-or-bust wide receiver, and with Andy Dalton under center in place of Dak Prescott (ankle), there are likely much more bust than boom weeks coming up.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cedrick Wilson made just two catches in a Week 6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson was targeted three times, gaining 10 yards on his two catches. Andy Dalton threw the ball 54 times and showed that even though the Dallas defense will make him keep throwing the ball plenty, he likely won't be able to push the fourth wide receiver on the depth chart into fantasy relevance. Wilson won't be a recommended starter in most formats as long as the rest of the Cowboys receivers remain healthy.
Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard ran the ball 10 times in a Week 6 loss, gaining 31 yards. He was targeted four times in the passing game, catching two passes for nine yards. Pollard came into this one with a total of 13 rush attempts, so his 10 runs were a bit of a surprise. Starter Ezekiel Elliott lost two fumbles and cost the Cowboys a competitive first half, likely leading to an increased role for Pollard. Still, Elliott is in no danger of losing his role on offense, leaving Pollard as a huge difference-maker only if Elliott misses time due to injury, illness, or suspension.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper bounced back from his rough Week 5 performance. He was targeted 10 times in the passing game, catching seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. This was very much a garbage time performance, as Cooper wasn't even targeted until late in the first half. His touchdown came from one yard out and made it a 31-10 game with about six minutes left in the game. Cooper will take a hit with the loss of Dak Prescott (ankle) for the season, but based on his talent and the fact that the Cowboys Defense will make sure the offense has to throw the ball a lot, Cooper will remain a high-end WR2.
Dallas Cowboys rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb made seven catches in Week 6, gaining 64 yards. He was targeted 10 times in the passing game, tying for second with Amari Cooper behind running back Ezekiel Elliott. Lamb will continue to see plenty of targets every week, but the drop off from Dak Prescott (ankle) to Andy Dalton is looking like a much bigger drop than originally expected. Lamb will retain WR3 value in standard leagues with a bonus in PPR formats.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton did not play well in his first start. Dalton took over in Week 5 after Dak Prescott (ankle) was forced to leave the game and looked decent, but looked almost the complete opposite in his Week 6 start. Dalton completed 34 of his 54 pass attempts for 266 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. He added four yards on two carries. Dalton missed some throws by high school margins and checked down to running backs 15 times despite having three elite wide receivers running on the field. Some of it was probably rust and Dalton should look better than this at most points this season, but he proved that the drop off from Prescott to Dalton for the rest of the season may be a lot more significant than originally expected. Dalton will be a QB2 for a matchup against the Washington Football Team in Week 7.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ran the ball 12 times in a Week 6 loss, gaining 49 yards. He saw a team-high 11 targets in the passing game, catching eight of them for 31 yards. It was a rough game for Elliott, who lost two fumbles in the first half and was one of the key reasons this was not even a competitive game. Elliott saw backup Tony Pollard carry the ball 10 times in this one as well. "Zeke" will have better games, but with Andy Dalton under center, opposing teams won't be as concerned with the passing game and will be able to focus on shutting down the running game. Based on volume alone, Elliott will remain a weekly RB1, but he won't be the top-tier option he was with Dak Prescott (ankle) calling the shots.
Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin (concussion) left the Monday night game against the Cardinals in the first quarter after suffering a concussion. Martin was ruled out to begin the second half with the team trailing 21-3. The Cowboys above-average offensive line has been decimated by injuries this year. Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick retired in the offseason. Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith had season-ending neck surgery last week, while right tackle La'el Collins is on Injured Reserve after having hip surgery. Joe Looney, who replaced Frederick at center, is on Injured Reserve as well. With quarterback Dak Prescott (ankle) also out for the year, the offense struggled against Arizona. The injuries to the offensive line have been more bad news for the offense, especially for running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Andy Dalton.
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.