The Bears were able to celebrate this weekend, pulling together the triumph and the joy of 100 years of football.
But because one of their own is struggling, it was bittersweet for some of the assembled legends.
Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers, who is battling dementia, drew a huge roar from the assembled crowd as he was brought onto stage in a wheelchair, according to the Associated Press.
The 76-year-old Sayers wiped his eyes as old teammate Dick Butkus and others stood on stage clapping for him as he was introduced.
“That’s a tough thing,” Butkus said. “I call and check on him quite frequently, and it’s a sad deal. You’ve just got to be thankful with what you’ve got. I’ve got my problems with neuropathy and my balance. But I’ve got no pain. At least I still know who I am. I’m happy about that.”
Sayers was among the six Hall of Famers and 230 former and current players and coaches there. And since the event was given to nostalgia, those in attendance marveled at the skills of the “Kansas Comet.”
“He looked like he was gliding,” former Bears coach Mike Ditka said of Sayers. “I mean, the field was muddy. Everybody was slipping and sliding, except him. It was the most unbelievable exhibition I’ve seen in the history of the game. There probably was nothing like that. Just a great, great guy. Great guy. Gale was humble, never said a whole lot. But he was a super football player.”
Ditka was referring to a 1965 game in which Sayers scored six touchdowns, which helped him earn rookie of the year honors. Sayers made four Pro Bowls during his career, which was marked by so many graceful, highlight-reel runs before injuries cut his career short after just seven seasons.
After the recognition, Sayers slumped in his wheelchair as Mike Singletary wheeled him away, an emotional scene for those who witnessed it — just as his playing career was so moving for so many.