LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers passed away on Wednesday at the age of 77.
Nicknamed the “Kansas Comet”, Sayers established himself throughout his collegiate and professional career as one of the great running backs in the history of football. A two-time All-America selection for the Jayhawks, Sayers concluded his KU career with 2,675 yards rushing and 3,917 all-purpose yards.
Sayers led KU in rushing, touchdowns and kickoff returns all three years he was in the lineup. He also led the team in receiving and punt returns as a junior and senior. Sayers became the first player in NCAA Division IA history to record a 99-yard run when he broke loose against Nebraska in Lincoln during the 1963 season.
Sayers also had a 96-yard kickoff return in a 15-14 upset of Oklahoma his senior season. Sayers was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears (and Kansas City Chiefs) and had an abbreviated seven-year NFL career that was cut short by a knee injury. He led the league in rushing in 1966 and 1969.
Sayers retired in 1972 with a career total of 4,956 rushing yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 at age 34, the youngest person ever selected. In a relatively short career, Sayers compiled a record that can never be forgotten.
He totaled 9,435 combined net yards, 4,856 yards rushing and 336 points scored. At the time of retirement, he was the NFL’s all-time leader in kickoff returns. Sayers won All-NFL honors five straight years and was named Offensive Player of the Game in three of the four Pro Bowls in which he played.
He served as an assistant athletics director at his alma mater from 1972-76. Most recently, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) inducted Gale Sayers into the John McLendon Minority Athletics Administrators Hall of Fame on June 19, 2009.
Statement from Director of Athletics Jeff Long
“One of the greatest, if not the greatest, players to ever wear a Kansas football uniform, Gale Sayers was a trailblazer on and off the field. There are only three numbers retired in the history of our football program, and the number 48 jersey worn by the “Kansas Comet” is one of those.
“His achievements on the field are well documented and he certainly left his mark on the KU football and NFL records books, but Gale Sayers was far more than a football player, he is one of the finest men to ever grace our program. We are so proud of the way he represented our University and the entire State of Kansas.
“In less than two weeks, we will be unveiling the Gale Sayers statue at halftime of the Oklahoma State game on October 3rd. Thankfully Gale was able to be involved throughout the sculpting process and had a chance to see photos of the finished statue. It is a long overdue honor and will be a bittersweet ceremony, but this will allow us the opportunity to forever immortalize another KU football legend.
“Football fans everywhere that were fortunate enough to watch him play or meet this wonderful man, all mourn the loss of Gale Sayers. Our deepest condolences to his amazing wife Ardie and the rest of the Sayers family. A true hero, Gale will be greatly missed.”
Statement from Head Coach Les Miles
“We are saddened to hear of the passing of Kansas great, Gale Sayers. I cherished every opportunity to watch him play and I am privileged to coach in the stadium that he once played in. He had a remarkable impact on the game of football and the University of Kansas, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Statement from Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker
“The “Kansas Comet” burst onto the scene in the National Football League and captured the attention of all of America. Despite playing only 68 NFL games because of an injury-shortened career, Gale was a clear-cut — and first-ballot — Hall of Famer for his accomplishments on the field and for the man of character he was in life.
“Sharing a room with Brian Piccolo — the first interracial roommates in the NFL — set an example for racial equality in the League and across the country. In many ways, our country is still trying to emulate the courage, commitment, compassion and excellence Gale has demonstrated since first setting foot on a football field in Kansas.”