Named Nfl's Rookie Of The Year
Sayers made a spectacular debut in pro football, rushing for a total of 867 yards and 22 touchdowns during his rookie season. His outstanding performance earned Sayers Rookie of the Year honors as well as the NFL's scoring title for the year. The high point of Sayers's rookie season with the Bears came in a game against the San Francisco 49ers on December 12, 1965, when the running back rushed for six touchdowns on a cold and muddy football field in Chicago. He single-handedly gained 316 yards and scored 36 points, prompting teammate Mike Ditka to tell the NFL Insider: "Yeah, the mud affected the kid. If it had been dry out there, he would've scored 10 touchdowns." The rookie also managed to win a trip to the Pro Bowl.
As if to prove that his rookie season was no fluke, Sayers came back with a vengeance in 1966, rushing for a total of 1,231 yards to lead the league. Averaging 5.4 yards per rushing attempt, Sayers was once again selected to play in the Pro Bowl. The following year, he again earned All-Pro honors, rushing for 880 yards. Sayers also began to lay the groundwork for a life after football, taking a job as a stockbroker in Chicago during the off-season. In addition, he began to take a more active role in civic and humanitarian affairs, focusing particularly on programs to benefit underprivileged children.
It was also during this period that his friendship with fellow running back Brian Piccolo began to grow stronger. It was in many respects a very unusual friend-ship indeed. Both men played the same position, which most often fuels rivalry rather than friendship. Sayers was African American and Piccolo was white. In 1967 the two roomed together during a preseason training camp in Alabama. Although they lived and practiced together, they could not go out in public and eat a meal comfortably during a period when the barriers of racial segregation had yet to be fully dismantled. When Piccolo was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 1969, the bonds of friendship between the two men grew even stronger. Sayers was a pallbearer at Piccolo's funeral after his friend died on June 16, 1970.