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On This Date in Sports December 12, 1965: 18 inches of Daylight

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears has a game for the ages, scoring six touchdowns as the Chicago Bears maul the San Francisco 49ers 61-20 at Wrigley Field. The six touchdowns equal an NFL single-game record previously set by Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals in 1929 and Dub Jones of the Cleveland Browns in 1951. Sayers would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors.

Gale Sayers was born on May 30, 1943, in Wichita, Kansas, and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. He was heavily recruited by Midwestern colleges, eventually choosing to play at the University of Kansas. There he became an All-American and one of the top rushers in the country, as he became known as the Kansas Comet. In 1965, the Chicago Bears had a pair of high draft picks and hit two home runs, drafting Linebacker Dick Butkus out of Illinois with the third pick and Gale Sayers with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft. Sayers was also chosen fifth by the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL Draft, in the penultimate NFL Draft before the common draft began in 1967.


Gale Sayers immediately became a star for the Bears, as he scored four touchdowns in a 45-37 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5. Sayers had a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown, and a kickoff return in that game, which would happen again until Tyreek Hill did it with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016. Gale Sayers once said, give him 18 inches of daylight, and he could score.

The Bears, led by George Halas, entered the next to last week of the season holding a record of 8-5 as they hosted the 7-5 San Francisco 49ers coached by Jack Christensen. It was a warm but rainy December day in Chicago as the game was played in muddy conditions. Gale Sayers’ first score came from an 80-yard pass from Rudy Bukich. Bukich later hit Mike Ditka on a 29-yard pass to build a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The 49ers got on the board with Dave Parks reeling in a nine-yard pass from John Brodie, who later had a 15-yard pass to John David Crow. The Bears meanwhile got touchdown runs of 21 yards and seven yards from Sayers to hold a 27-13 lead at the half. In the third quarter, Chicago began to pull away, with Gale Sayers adding two more touchdown runs, one of 50 yards and a one-yard run, to go up 40-13. San Francisco found the end zone with a two-yard touchdown run by Dave Kopay. The Bears' onslaught continued after the Niners scored, as Jim Jones reeled in an eight-yard pass from Rudy Bukich to make it 47-20. Gale Sayers would make it 54-20 on an 85-yard punt return, tying the NFL record for touchdowns in a game with six. Jon Arnett would add a two-yard touchdown run for the final score of 61-20. Gale Sayers ended the game with 113 yards on nine carries while accounting for 202 yards from scrimmage.

The six touchdowns in a game tied a record previously set by Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals and Dub Jones of the Cleveland Browns in 1951. In both instances, the six touchdowns game against the Bears, with Nevers also making history at Wrigley Field. Gale Sayers would set a record for touchdowns by a rookie with 22, as he was named NFL Rookie of the Year, rushing for 867 yards with 1,375 yards overall from scrimmage. In 2020 Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints, in a Christmas game against the Minnesota Vikings, became the latest player with six touchdowns.