Paul Sullivan: Gale Sayers' Bears legacy is about more than numbers and highlight reels. He taught us how to love one another.

By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Football

CHICAGO - The words of Gale Sayers that made every Chicago schoolboy cry were actually delivered by Billy Dee Williams, who played the Bears great in the TV movie "Brian's Song."

"I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all you to love him too."

Delivering a speech in New York while accepting the George S. Halas Award for courage, the movie version of Sayers paid tribute to his dying friend and teammate in a scene that crushed me and my brothers as we quietly watched in our living room and hoped Mom and Dad didn't notice the tears falling down our cheeks.

Even to this day, just hearing the theme from the movie gets me verklempt.

As with many others who grew up here in the 1960s, Sayers was my first hero, an athlete so incredibly talented and enjoyable to watch, it made us forget just how bad some of those Bears teams were. He was unlike anyone we'd seen before, and more than five decades later, we still can say the same.

The "Kansas Comet" was an obsession with Bears coach George Halas, who made him the fourth pick of the 1965 draft, right after selecting homegrown linebacker Dick Butkus at No. 3.


"I couldn't stand to let Gale go elsewhere after I saw him make a totally unique move in a Kansas game film," Halas said. "Gale started one way, left his feet and seemed to change direction in the air. When he landed, he was running the opposite direction. When I saw that move, I knew we had to get that young man."

I never got a chance to see Sayers play in person at Wrigley Field, but we were fortunate enough to have a giant antenna on the roof of our house so we could watch the blacked-out home games from a South Bend, Ind., TV station.

The picture was a little grainy at times, but it didn't matter. You didn't need high-def to watch Sayers waltzing around defenders as if the laws of physics did not apply to him.

"I can't define my running style," Sayers once told former Tribune reporter Cooper Rollow. "Really, I don't know where I'm going. I go where my feet take me. I like to think that if my blockers can get me 18 inches of clearance, I've got a shot at breaking a long one."


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