EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Legends who took the field against Bears great Gale Sayers mourned Wednesday's death of the Hall of Fame running back.
Sayers, 77, was lauded for his personality and ability by Jim Marshall, Bobby Bryant and fellow member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Carl Eller.
"One of the biggest things I really respected about Gale Sayers was his ability to adjust to any given situation," Marshall said. "We used to marvel about him and say he could change direction in the air. He was one of the greatest players I ever played against, not just one of the greatest running backs. I have the ultimate respect for him, and my heart is truly saddened by the news today."
Sayers played for Chicago from 1965-71, earning five First-Team All-Pro selections and four trips to the Pro Bowl in his first five seasons. He twice led the NFL in rushing yards (1,231 yards in 1966 and 1,032 in 1969 when he also led the NFL with 236 attempts).
Injuries shortened Sayers' final two seasons. He finished with 991 carries for 4,956 yards (a career average of 5.0 yards per carry) and 39 rushing touchdowns.
Sayers also totaled 112 receptions for 1,307 yards and nine scores through the air and was a sight to see as a punt and kickoff returner. He returned six kickoffs for touchdowns and two punts for scores over his career.
Bryant remembered covering a kickoff return by Sayers in the late '60s.
"I was wondering why he would be returning kicks after his knee surgery, but this was near the end of his career," Bryant said. "He was a great player — good person, as well. Rest in peace, Gale Sayers, as you are united with your brother and teammate, Brian Piccolo!"
Piccolo teamed with Sayers in the Bears backfield from 1966-69. He was just 26 when he passed away in 1970.
Eller described a sincere admiration of Sayers' intensity and captivating style of play.
"Gale was a fierce competitor and could break open a play any time he touched the ball. He was truly an offensive weapon, and there was no way to contain him for long," Eller said. "Everybody respected and admired him for his talent. We would be glued to the [television] screen when he was playing another team. We knew we had to stay focused and pay special attention to him when we played him.
"He could make those big plays in the running game you only expect in the passing game," Eller continued. "He was always capable of a 20-, 30-yard gain whenever he had the ball."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who grew up a Bears fan in Illinois, opened his Wednesday session by expressing condolences to Sayers' family.
"I was sorry to hear about the passing of Gale Sayers," Zimmer said. "When I was 11, I was fortunate enough to go to his house and play pool with him, my dad and one of my dad's players. He was a great man, and I'm sure everyone is going to miss him.
"I watched him a lot," Zimmer added. "He was so elusive the way he could run the football, the way he could hit the seams and accelerate through. It just seemed like he was always making big plays."