NFL legend Gale Sayers has died at the age of 77.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs to ever carry a football, the former Chicago Bear was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
"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," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement Wednesday.
"Gale was an electrifying and elusive runner who thrilled fans every time he touched the ball," added Goodell, noting that "we will also forever remember Gale for his inspiration and kindness."
Sayers earned additional inclusion in the cultural zeitgeist as a central figure in the tear-jerking 1971 film "Brian's Song."
Based upon Sayers' autobiography "I Am Third," the movie details the friendship between Sayers, played by Billy Dee Williams, and teammate Brian Piccolo, portrayed by James Caan, as the latter succumbs to embryonal cell carcinoma at the age of 26.
Sayers' and Piccolo's starkly contrasted backgrounds and personalities made the pair unlikely friends, however the unique bond that developed proved transcendental given the racial barriers that existed in the NFL of the 1960's.
The Kansas Comet
Prior to joining the league in 1965, Sayers was a three-year superstar at the University of Kansas, amassing a Big Eight Conference-record 4,020 all-purpose yards and earning the nickname the "Kansas Comet."
During his time in Lawrence, Sayers was selected as a first-team All-Big Eight performer three times, and was twice named a College Football All-American, in both 1963 and 1964.
While on campus at Kansas, Sayers was active socially, joining fellow students in the 1964 KU fair housing march, a protest aimed at addressing racial discrimination among fraternities and sororities.