Unless you’re older than oh, 65 or 70, you probably see actor William December (Billy Dee) Willams in your mind’s eye when you hear the name Gale Sayers, the Chicago Bears legend who passed away Wednesday at the age of 77.
He had been battling dementia since 2012.
While Williams was outstanding in his role as Sayers in the 1971 made-for-TV tearjerker Brian’s Song , few, if any, have or ever will be able to duplicate what the “Kansas Comet” did on the field, specifically early in a career that was unfairly cut short (1965-1971) by knee injuries.
“If you wish to see perfection as a running back, you had best get a hold of film of Gale Sayers,” Bears owner George Halas said in 1977, when Sayers became the youngest player (34) enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “He was poetry in motion. His like will never be seen again.”
Selected fourth in the 1965 draft (after the Bears had taken Dick Butkus third on a pretty good day in franchise history) Sayers had a season for the ages, setting a rookie record that still stands by scoring 22 touchdowns (14 rushing, six receiving, one kickoff return and one punt return) in a season that was then just 14 games long.
On Dec. 12, 1965 he matched an NFL record (first set by Dub Jones of the Cleveland Browns in 1951) with six touchdowns, including a 50-yard rush, 80-yard reception, 85 yard punt return and 336 all-purpose yards. No player has crossed the goal-line a half-dozen times in one game since.
Sayers went on to become the league’s most dangerous weapon while being voted the best running back in its first 50 years, despite playing just 68 games. His final four games were split evenly over his last two seasons, when surgeries on both knees left him a mere shadow of the extraordinary talent he once was.
In his first 64 games, from 1965-69, he scored 56 touchdowns, including 39 rushing, nine receiving, six on kickoff return and two on punt returns. His 30.6 yards average per kickoff return is also still a NFL record.
“Give me 18 inches of daylight,” Sayers said early in his career. “That’s all I need.”
In case you’re one of the few on the planet who haven’t seen Brian’s Song , the focus is on the friendship between Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who replaced him in the Bears backfield after he suffered a season ending knee injury in 1968. As Sayers was battling to comeback from surgery, Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer. When Sayers accepted the George Halas Courage Award for not just recovering from his injury but leading the league in rushing in 1969, he dedicated the award to Piccolo.
Who could ever forget the most emotional moment of the movie?
“You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you that I accept it for Brian Piccolo,” Sayers said in the speech after taking about his friend’s courage. “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. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.”
Piccolo died on June 16, 1970.
Williams and James Caan, who played the role of Piccolo, both were nominated for a best actor Emmy for their performances in Brian’s Song . On Wednesday, both expressed their sadness over the death of their friend on Twitter.
Earlier, Williams said the Sayers role was the one he was most proud of in his long and illustrious acting career.
“It was a love story, really, between two guys, without sex,” said Williams. “It ended up being kind of a breakthrough in terms of racial division.”
Watch Brian’s Song if you haven’t already. It will help you appreciate how great Sayers was as both a person and a one-of-a-kind football player.
DOWN AND OUT
Justin Herbert, the sixth overall pick of the 2020 draft, will make his second start, and this time with more than a few minutes notice, when the Chargers face the Panthers Sunday. It was reported Wednesday that Herbert was a last-minute replacement for Tyrod Taylor against the Chiefs last week because Taylor had his lung punctured by a needle used to inject him with painkillers for two broken ribs just before warmup. Coach Anthony Lynn dismissed the incident as something that wasn’t done intentionally and said that Taylor would step back into the the No. 1 job when he’s at 100%. That’s a dangerous thing to say, of course. What if Herbert, who was 22-of-33 for 311 yards, a TD and a pick against the Super Bowl champs, is the NFL’s best offensive player on Sunday? … Expected to be Herbert’s backup is the quarterback who should have been a hockey player — 2019 fifth-rounder Easton Stick … Jimmy Garoppolo’s high-ankle sprain makes him unlikely for Sunday, which means Nick Mullens is expected to be San Francisco’s starting QB against the Giants. It will be the ninth career start for Mullens, who with the sad sack 2018 49ers in 2018 was 3-5 with a 64.2% completion rate, 13 TDs and 10 interceptions.
Teams have combined to score 1,611 points, more than ever before through the first two weeks of the season. Previous record at this point was 1,556 in 2012 … About criticisms that his play is declining with his age, 41-year-old Drew Brees said: “I feel good. Borderline great.” … Raiders have placed left guard Ritchie Incognito on IR with an Achilles injury.
After a perfect 4-0 week that included the Raiders covering and winning their home opener against the Saints on Monday, our guest handicapper Matt The Service Clerk In Charge Of Carts at the Real Canadian Superstore in Orleans is giving us, gratis, his best three picks for a second straight week, and they include a couple of dogs. He likes Bengals (+6.5) over Eagles, Giants (+4.5) over 49ers and Saints (-3.5) over Packers. If he stays hot, there could be a future for Matt in this prognosticating thing. Our advice to him: Once or twice is OK, but never agree to work for free.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020