First and second injuries
In his second season, despite being the focus of opposing defenses, Sayers led the league in rushing with 1231 yards. In 1968 his season was ended prematurely in a game against the San Francisco 49ers when Sayers tore many ligaments in his right knee. He had surgery and rehabilitation, with the help of Brian Piccolo. In the 1969 season he led the league in rushing once again, but he lacked the lightning speed he once had.
In 1970, Sayers suffered a second knee injury, this time to his left knee. During his off time, he took classes at the University of New York to become a stockbroker and became the first black stockbroker in his company's history. After another rehabilitation period, he tried for a comeback, but was not successful. He was encouraged to retire, because of his loss of speed. His final game was in the preseason; he was handed the ball three times and fumbled twice.
Sayers retired from football during the 1971 campaign, and began a career as CEO of a computer company. In 1977, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1994, he had his uniform number, 40, retired at Soldier Field in Chicago. On the same evening, his contemporary Dick Butkus, a legendary Bears linebacker, was similarly honored. In 1999, despite the brevity of his career, he was ranked number 21 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
Devoted friendship, Sayers/Piccolo
His friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo, and Piccolo's struggle with the cancer that would eventually result in his death, became the subject of the legendary made-for-TV movie Brian's Song. The movie, in which Sayers was portrayed by Billy Dee Williams in the 1971 original, and by Mekhi Phifer in the 2001 remake, was adapted from Sayers' own telling of this story in his 1971 autobiography I Am Third.