The Kansas Comet,
May have gained his final yard.
But legends don’t die.
More than Football.
“They accept me as a football star but not as a Negro.” Gale Sayers’: “final major gesture” as a college student: getting arrested at the University of Kansas in the name of racial justice. Rest in Power. (HT @loumoore12) pic.twitter.com/R1ysSCiuil
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) September 23, 2020
The Origins of Brian’s Song.
From a wonderful Mike Vaccaro piece about Sayers and the origin of Brian’s Song in the New York Post:
Sayers was called to the dais and there was a round of respectful applause. Many of the men in the room had interviewed Sayers before; they knew he was a man of few words. Most started reaching for their topcoats as Sayers thanked his teammates, and Halas, and his doctors.
“It is something special to do a job many say can’t be done,” Sayers said quietly, barely audibly. “Maybe that’s how courage is spelled out — at least in my case.”
More polite clapping. Typical Sayers: Quick, Humble, Bland, Unmem… “But I’d like to tell you about my friend, Brian Piccolo.”
This was unexpected. Piccolo? He was an unremarkable running back who’d partnered in Sayers’ backfield as a mostly forgettable blocking back. He’d filled in ably when Sayers had been hurt in ’68, but he wasn’t a name most in the room were terribly familiar with.
“In the middle of last season, Brian was struck down by the deadliest, most shocking enemy any of us can ever face — cancer.”
Now he had the room’s undivided attention.
“Compare his courage with the kind I’m supposed to possess. There was never any doubt that I’d return, knee injury or no. But think of Brian and his fortitude in the months since last November, in and out of hospitals, hoping to play football again, but not too sure at any time what the score was or might be. He has the heart of a giant. He has the mental attitude that makes me proud to have a friend who spells out the word ‘courage’ 24 hours a day, every day of his life.”
He paused. Six hundred men in tuxedos sat in silence, glassy-eyed, numb. Then, somehow, Gale Sayers summoned the strength to finish his speech with this: “You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas Award. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo’s tomorrow.
“I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.”
Fifty years ago Monday, 600 men waited a beat, then jumped to their feet, filling the room and the hotel (now the Sheraton Times Square) with a roar most could still feel in their ears years later. Brian Piccolo died 22 days later at the age of 26, a few blocks away, at what is now called Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Gale Sayers, Dec. 12, 1965
🏈 9 carries, 113 yards, 4 TD
🏈 2 catches, 89 yards, TD
🏈 5 kick returns, 134 yards, TD
NFL record: 6 TD in a game
NFL record: 22 TD in a rookie season
(That’s 21 yards per touch, by the way.)pic.twitter.com/azluKu4sY1
— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) September 23, 2020
In His Own Words.
- The legendary Fred Mitchell paid a final visit to Gale Sayers in 2018, well after he’d been diagnosed with dementia.
- Here’s a terrific interview Roger Ebert did with Billy Dee Williams in 1975. (BDW played Sayers in Brian’s Song.)
- The Daily Herald did a nice job compiling a series of Sayers photographs that tell his story as a Chicago Bear and beyond. That same paper also did a nice job discussing how unfathomable it was that the team never won with Sayers and Dick Butkus.