Suffers Serious Knee Injury
During the 1968 season Sayers suffered his first serious knee injury. In a game against the 49ers, the running back was hit so hard that his knee was badly twisted, tearing ligaments and ending his season prematurely. Although he played only nine games in 1968, Sayers managed to rush for a very respectable total of 856 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Because of his knee injury, Sayers was forced to undergo extensive surgery and a lengthy period of physical rehabilitation. Although he was back for the beginning of the Bears' 1969 season, he was forced to start very slowly. The uncharacteristically conservative nature of Sayers's early play in 1969 gave rise to rumors that the running back was washed up. Despite the slow start, Sayers ended the season as the NFL's leading rusher, having piled up a total of 1,032 yards.
At the end of the 1969 season, Sayers was honored with the George Halas Award as "the most courageous player in professional football." When he was presented with the award at the annual dinner of the Professional Football Writers, he dedicated the award to Piccolo, saying: "You flatter me by giving me this award, but I can tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas award. Mine is tonight; it is Brian Piccolo's tomorrow.… I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him."
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