On this day in 1965, the rookie running back Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears scores six touchdowns during a single game against the San Francisco 49ers at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, tying the National Football League (NFL) record for most touchdowns in a single game.
Born in 1943, Sayers was a two-time All-American at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. In 1965, he was drafted by both the Bears of the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League (AFL). Though Kansas City offered him more money, Sayers chose to play for the Bears. He scored his first pro touchdown in the second game of the season, a losing effort against the Los Angeles Rams, and never looked back, amassing a total of 2,272 combined rushing, receiving and kick-return yards and 22 touchdowns, a record for a rookie. In the December 12 game against the 49ers, Sayers triumphed over muddy conditions to score his historic six touchdowns–four rushing, one receiving and one return–tying an NFL record held by Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals (1929) and Dub Jones of the Cleveland Browns (1951). Sayers was voted the NFL Rookie of the Year for 1965.
Due to serious knee injuries sustained in 1968 and 1970, Sayers’ NFL career lasted only six seasons, during which he twice led the league in rushing, in 1966 and 1969, and garnered the best-ever career kickoff-return average in the NFL (30.65 yards). After briefly attempting to play again after his second injury, he retired for good in 1972.
Sayers is also well-known for his close friendship with his fellow Bears halfback Brian Piccolo, who motivated Sayers through rehabilitation after his first knee injury and who died in 1970 after a struggle with cancer. The 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song, a sentimental favorite for many, was adapted from Sayers’ memoir, I Am Third. In 1977, the 34-year-old Sayers became the youngest player ever to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.