Enshrined in 1977 when he was 34 years old, Sayers went in as the youngest Hall of Famer in history. He retired from the NFL after seven seasons because of knee injuries, but Sayers was revered for his speed and elusiveness throughout his career.
"All those who love the game of football mourn the loss of one of the greatest to ever play this game with the passing of Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers," said Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker. "He was the very essence of a team player - quiet, unassuming, and always ready to compliment a teammate for a key block. Gale was an extraordinary man who overcame a great deal of adversity during his NFL career and life."
Sayers was a top-five pick in both the AFL and NFL drafts in 1965, but he chose to sign with the Bears over the Kansas City Chiefs. He rushed for a single-season franchise record 14 touchdowns as a rookie, while his 22 total touchdowns that year set a new record - one that O.J. Simpson would eventually break. He was named NFL Rookie of the Year at the end of the campaign.
Nicknamed the "Kansas Comet" during a decorated college career with the Jayhawks, Sayers went on to make five Pro Bowls and earn four first-team All-Pro selections with the Bears. He finished his career with 4,956 yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground, though Sayers was limited to four games over his final two seasons.
He also won two rushing titles (1966 and 1969), the Comeback Player of the Year award (1969), and was named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
"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," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Gale was an electrifying and elusive runner who thrilled fans every time he touched the ball. He earned his place as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
"We will also forever remember Gale for his inspiration and kindness. Gale's quiet unassuming demeanor belied his determination, competitiveness, and compassion. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Ardie, and their family. Our thoughts are with his teammates, the Bears organization, the many fans who remember him as a football player, and the many more people who were touched by Gale's spirit and generosity."
Sayers suffered from dementia in the later stages of his life. He sued the NFL in 2014 alongside six other former players, claiming the league mishandled head injuries.