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NFL Hall Of Fame Running Back Gale Sayers Dies At 77

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers has died at age 77. Sayers was known as The Kansas Comet, a dragonfly of a running back who quickly broke out for the Jayhawks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: At the 30, 35, 40. He's all the way. The 40, 35, 30, 20, 15, 10, 5 - touchdown, Gale Sayers.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

After an all-American career at the University of Kansas, Sayers joined the Chicago Bears in 1965. And his rookie year was one for the books. In just one game against the San Francisco 49ers, he scored six touchdowns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: You can see him breaking away from that tackle. Watch the moves here. The quick move of Gale Sayers. He's off - 85 yards for a touchdown.

KELLY: And another touchdown and another. With those six touchdown, Sayers tied an NFL record, but his performance that day was no anomaly. Sayers had an unmatched ability to pick apart defenses like a surgeon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GALE SAYERS: Give me 18 inches of daylight. That's all I need.

KELLY: In just seven seasons, Sayers made four Pro Bowl teams and was voted all-pro five times.

PFEIFFER: He also became known for something else - his heart. He grew close with his teammate Brian Piccolo, who was fighting cancer. Sayers' account of their friendship was the inspiration for the classic sports film "Brian's Song." Billy Dee Williams played Sayers in the film and delivered a line first uttered by Sayers himself when he won the NFL's most courageous player award and said he would give it to Piccolo.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BRIAN'S SONG")

BILLY DEE WILLIAMS: (As Gale Sayers) I loved 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.

PFEIFFER: It's a moment that captures Sayers' depth - a wildly talented athlete who would go to great lengths for the people he loved.

KELLY: Gale Sayers' career was cut short by injuries, but not long after retiring, he became the youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Its president announced his death this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.