The NFL has lost a true icon with the passing of the legendary Gale Sayers. Bettmann/Contributor, Getty Images

The NFL community and the larger sports world lost an absolute legend on Wednesday with news that Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers has passed away at the age of 77 after battling dementia for years.

A member of the Chicago Bears for just seven seasons, Sayers earned four trips to the Pro Bowl, was named First-Team All-Pro five times and won two NFL rushing titles.

More than the difference Sayers made on the field, he was a larger-than-life figure off the field. Perhaps best known for his friendship with ailing teammate Brian Piccolo, Sayers showed us that humanity was alive and well within the football world. Their story was told on “Brian’s Song” and has an abiity to lead grown men to tears.

Those close to Sayers and the rest of the sports world paid tribute to the legend following his passing, including actor Billy Dee Williams. He portrayed the running back in the above-mentioned film.

“Football fans know well Gale’s many accomplishments on the field: a rare combination of speed and power as the game’s most electrifying runner, a dangerous kick returner, his comeback from a serious knee injury to lead the league in rushing, and becoming the youngest player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey said in a statement. “People who weren’t even football fans came to know Gale through the TV movie ‘Brian’s Song,’ about his friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo. Fifty years later, the movie’s message that brotherhood and love needn’t be defined by skin color, still resonates.”

They were joined by others in paying homage to the all-time great following his passing.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined in paying tribute to Sayers with an emotional statement following his passing.

“The NFL family lost a true friend today with the passing of Gale Sayers. Gale was one of the finest men in NFL history and one of the game’s most exciting players,” Goodell said in a statement.

Our thoughts obviously go out to the Sayers family, the Chicago Bears organization and the entire sports world. A legend has ascended to the stars. That’s for sure.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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