WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers died Wednesday at the age of 77.
For all that he did on the football field, he is also known for his friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo. Their friendship was depicted in the 1971 movie “Brian’s Song”.
William Salter of Wilmington went to elementary school with Piccolo and later played college football with him at Wake Forest. Salter remembers how talented a football player Sayers was. He was known for his elusiveness, agility, and speed.
But Piccolo told him stories about how reserved he was, and that Piccolo helped Sayers break his fear of public speaking by bringing him to his speaking engagements.
“He (Sayers) was very shy,” Salter said Piccolo told him. “Very uncomfortable speaking publicly. So, Brian would drag him along with him to these events. They would look for Brian Piccolo and up would show Gale Sayers.”
Off the field, Sayers and Piccolo had an unbreakable bond. When Sayers battled what could have been a career-ending knee injury, it was Piccolo who pushed him to come back.
And when Piccolo fought cancer, a battle that he wouldn’t win, it was Sayers that was by his side, supporting his friend.
It was a friendship that broke social norms for the 1960′s. The two were roommates just a few years after the Washington football team became the last franchise to integrate in 1962.
“Gale was there all the time,” said Salter. “Gale was a very sensitive fellow. He really adored Brian because of their friendship. We must remember...back then, in those days, having a young African American and a white football player bunk together was very unusual. So that was a very special relationship.”
The news of Sayers death was difficult for Salter.
“I was so stunned,” said Salter. “He was such a handsome guy; it looks like he was in such good shape. I’m sure it’s very difficult for his family. I’m sure it’s difficult for Brian’s wife as well because she was very close with Gale.”